Women's Basketball Celebrates Senior Day
Seniors Chantay Caron, Ashlynn Knoll and Katya Leick have all faced adversity during their K-State careers, but tonight, they have the opportunity to put the hard times behind them and play before their faithful fans for the final time.
"I know I'm going to cry, I know that," laughed Caron as she thought about her final home game. "It'll be hard because the only thing that will be going through your mind is, 'I want to win this game, but oh my goodness, this is my last game on this court.' So it'll be hard to balance it all out, but I think we can do it and we'll get a win Senior Night."
A unique set of seniors, all three have struggled with injury set backs during their careers, yet they all have been essential parts of the team's successes not only this season, but in the past as well.
"I think emotion shows how much we love being here, how much we love our program and how much it means to us," explained Leick when asked if she'd get emotional during the evening's festivities. "I don't think having those emotions can be a bad thing. If we have those emotions, it means because it's our last game, our last go around, let's go as hard as we can. It's our last imprint that we have here. I think the emotion is a great thing. If you don't have that emotion, I don't know why you're playing."
Leick's story is a unique one. The 6-foot-1 forward from Grey Cloud Township, Minn., transferred to K-State in 2011 after playing two seasons at Nebraska. She was forced to sit on the sidelines her first year with K-State due to NCAA transfer rules, but what happened the following season was a blow to the entire team.
A month before the 2012-13 season tipped off, Leick suffered from a torn ACL, an injury that kept her out yet another season.
"Katya's gone through unbelievable injuries," head coach Deb Patterson said. "Having to transfer, thinking you're ready to compete then having it all taken away from you, and then this year, competing with a very young and inexperienced team, it is a lot to handle. She basically played this year with the designation of 'senior' and she was that off the floor, was that every day at practice, in her example, but in her learning (on the court), she was a freshman. She's balanced an unbelievable amount."
Though coming off an injury is tough, Leick has made the most of her time on the court this season. The senior is averaging 7.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game and has started every Big 12 game this season. As of recent, Leick has been playing her best basketball on her home court, as, in Big 12 play, she has averaged 12 points per game in Bramlage Coliseum.
"I wish I had one more year, I wish that things could have gone differently and I could have played one more year, but unfortunately I couldn't," Leick said. "The best thing I can say is I'm grateful, I'm blessed and I wish I could stay longer, and that's a good thing. It's been a great ride, it's still going, but I'm sad it's coming towards the end."
Much like Leick, Knoll, a 5-foot-11 forward, also transferred to K-State and was forced to the sidelines because of injury. The Canyon, Texas, native came to Manhattan from Seward County Community College in 2012 and was ready to make an impact right away. However, on Jan. 21, 2013, her junior campaign came to an end as she also suffered from an ACL injury.
"Last year I had basketball taken away from me faster than I had ever thought," explained Knoll. "I guess you don't really know what you've got until it's gone, and this year, coming back, now it's my last year to play. I've played basketball since I was in second grade. So I've just took it all in and experienced everything I could in this last year."
Though Knoll is averaging five points per game this season, as of recent, she's been making an immense impact on the court. She has scored in the double-digits in the Wildcats' past three games, including a career-high 19 points on Saturday afternoon at Oklahoma State.
"It was such a quick career for her, it seems like she just got here and yet she's already leaving," Patterson said about Knoll. "You can see that she's got to the point where she's starting to get some minutes and has come back strong off of that ACL injury. I'd expect as we finish Big 12 play she's going to keep getting some minutes. It's exciting to see the transformation coming off that ACL."
Finally, after a long ride filled with ups and downs, Caron, a 5-foot-11 forward from Lawrence, Kan., will be full of emotion as she steps on her home court this evening for the final time.
"It's a little bit depressing, but we're excited to play on Senior Night," Caron said. "It's a bittersweet thing. We're moving on to real life, but at the same time, we're leaving a lot behind. I'm happy that I got to play these four years here, but I'm also really sad that I have to leave this coaching staff and team."
Though this season has not gone as Caron had hoped - before every game and practice she wraps heating pads on her knees to mask the pain she's been playing through - there's no doubt she can look back on her career at K-State with fondness.
Last year, when the Wildcats suffered injury after injury and were down to only seven healthy players, Caron played an important role in helping K-State garner its four wins in the 2013 WNIT.
"Chantay was just a rock last year," Patterson said. "We absolutely had to have her, at 5-11, playing the five spot for us. She just did whatever it took, and I think that took a lot of her body. She's come back from a lot of - her back, her hip, her knees - she's just one of those beat up warriors. Her roles have changed this year because of her injuries, but she's still always there for you. If you've got an issue or if you've got a problem, you know you can go to her and get a straight up answer. She'll tell you what she thinks and I really love that about her."
Off the court, Caron has been an example to follow. The elementary education major has a knack for making people smile and enjoys giving back to the community. She is her team's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) leader, a two-time First Team Academic All-Big 12 selection and was nominated for the 2014 Allstate WBCA Good Works Team earlier this season.
"Chantay has had a limited role this season, but a very, very big role," explained Patterson. "We named her to SAAC committee because she is sort of that foundation. She just loves engaging others and has worked very hard and is very proud to say, 'I played at Kansas State. I'm going to be a great success when I leave here, and a better leader for having done it.'"
Though they are three very different players with very different backgrounds, they are three players who have been essential to providing leadership to this season's young team and are a group of seniors that won't soon be forgotten.
"It seems unbelievable that this season has wound down to Senior Day already," Patterson said. "All three of them are very willing to help others, and I like that about this class. I think they're sensitized to the needs, the thoughts and the emotions of other people."
TRACK AND FIELD SHINES AT BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP
K-State Track and Field closed out the Big 12 Indoor Track and Field Championships with a third-place finish from the men and a fifth-place finish from the women. The K-State men's final point total of 95 was the second most ever scored at the indoor meet and the squad's first back-to-back top-three finish since they finished third in 2003 and second in 2004.
For K-State's final results in the weekend's Big 12 Championship, click here.
Stay tuned for more on K-State track and field in an upcoming Sports Extra.