Last year, senior guard Kiernan McCloskey watched the Lehigh women’s basketball team from the bench.
She watched the team lose in the second round of the Patriot League Tournament. She watched her team play without her while she worked toward being able to be on the court again.
Now, she has to do it all over again.
McCloskey tore her ACL during a summer practice session before last season started, putting her on the bench for the season. This year, McCloskey came back and played for the Mountain Hawks for seven games, until she tore the same ACL again.
She tore it for the first time at practice in end of July 2015, when the team was preparing to go on a 10-day trip to Europe. McCloskey said she was running a fast break during a non-contact portion of the practice when she planted to shoot and her knee gave out completely.
“It was the worst pain I had ever felt,” McCloskey said. “It was the first time I had ever really been injured in my life.”
Senior guard Kari Moffat was standing right next to McCloskey when it happened. She said McCloskey let out a scream and when everyone heard it, they knew that something serious had just happened.
“My stomach dropped,” Moffat said.
McCloskey had surgery in August on the first day of classes last fall. She spent the rest of the year doing everything she could to be able to play again. Coach Sue Troyan said the rehab process for an ACL tear is about a nine-month-long process.
McCloskey said first you have to learn how to live your life normally again before you can think about playing basketball again. After the surgery, she had lost all quad activity and couldn’t lift her leg, so her first task was learning how to lift her leg again.
“The rehab starts really slow,” McCloskey said. “It’s little things like moving. The big focus in the first month is how far you can bend your knee.”
McCloskey started running about three months after the injury, and after five months she was able to start training herself how to jump again. Eight months later she was finally able to start working on agility training related to basketball.
She was finally cleared to play again in July 2016, one year after the injury took place.
“She came back honestly really strong,” Troyan said. “She was our leading rebounder before she got hurt, and each game she was getting more and more confident, more and more comfortable.”
But then the worst repeated itself.
McCloskey went up for a layup in Lehigh’s game against Monmouth on Nov. 27, and tore the same ACL again. She was told she would have to sit out the season again.
Her role on the team has evolved a lot because of her injuries. Last season, McCloskey sat as a coach on the bench for the year and was able to see the games from that point of view. Troyan said athletes sometimes take in-game decisions personally, and coaches see them in a broader perspective, so McCloskey was able to help close the gap between why the coaches made game decisions and how the players view them.
Troyan said she sees McCloskey as a strong vocal leader and motivator for her team. Troyan said she was a big factor in that last year and sees her taking on a similar role for the rest of this year.
The Mountain Hawks are a young team, with only one of the three seniors available to play in games. The team has five freshmen and two sophomores who didn’t see much playing time last year. Troyan said with the younger players out on the court for the team, McCloskey’s role will change a lot this year, but she doesn’t think the importance of her role as a leader changes.
It’s hard for McCloskey to see herself going through all the rehab again this year to be able to play again.
She said getting the rehab done just to live a normal life, and then going through more rehab to become Division I athlete is a big difference, she is just focused on getting better for the rest of her life.