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Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012

Olathe Northwest’s Brooks battles back from knee injury

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Scholarship offers from Big 12 teams were set to start pouring in last January when the unthinkable happened for Olathe Northwest’s Kelsey Brooks.

Eight games into her sophomore season with the Ravens girls’ basketball team, as she burst down court on yet another gallop toward an opponent’s goal, Brooks’ knee buckled.

The ACL in her right knee was gone and with it the bulk of her season.

“January 21,” Brooks said.

The date is so seared into her mind it’s as if she’s reliving the injury as she recalls that date. Surgery followed less than a month later after the swelling subsided and by July she was cleared to return to the court.

But in some ways, Brooks remains trapped in that awful moment during a 78-34 win against Neosho, Mo.

“That was my first my big injury,” Brooks said.

Tearing an ACL has become relatively common in the sports landscape, so Brooks never had a doubt that she’d be able to come back.

But the path back is different for every play, especially from a mental standpoint, which Brooks is learning all about as she tries to help ONW in its quest for the Kansas 6A state crown.

“I’m at about 85 percent right now,” Brooks said, noting that the muscles around her knee aren’t quite back to the same strength level as before the injury.

She is adamant that she hasn’t lost a step and Ravens coach Joel Branstrom agrees.

“She’s absolutely still quick as lightning,” Brooks said. “Her slow is still faster than a lot of people’s fast.”

But Brooks, who was averaging 17.3 points and playing electrifying at point guard when the injury occurred, admits she isn’t the same player – at least not yet.

“I am more conservative with myself,” she said. “I still need to work on a couple things. Sometimes, I still feel tentative on that knee. I’m pretty close to trusting it, like I usually don’t think about during games anymore, but there has been a lack of confidence sometimes. I’m trying to take it slow. The mental thing is toughest hurdle to overcome.”

Fortunately for Brooks, who received a scholarship offer from Wichita State recently and continues to draw interest from schools like Missouri and Kansas, she’s surrounded by teammates who can take much of the pressure off her shoulders.

Brooks’ scoring has dipped to 10.3 points per game as a junior. She isn’t attacking the basket with the same single-mindedness and ferocity as she did a year ago, but she still remains one of the top defensive guards in the Sunflower League, rankings second with 3.7 steals per game.

There are flashes of Brooks’ familiar brilliance returning.

“She puts a lot of pressure on herself, but she keeps knocking off the rust and getting more confident,” Branstrom said. “It’s easy to look at the scoring, but she has put more emphasis on other parts of her game. There are times when I tell her we need her to be a force rebounding the ball and she’ll go out and get eight boards for us. She still does many, many things.”

During a first-round win at the Newton Invitational on Thursday against Rose Hill, Brooks recorded 11 steals in helping key a 64-44 win.

While the road back hasn’t been as smooth as Brooks might have liked, both she and Branstrom are confident that she’ll be a better player in the long run.

“Absolutely, we want her to be aggressive and she is, because that’s when we are at our best,” Branstrom said. “She’s just not quite herself yet. But it’s only going to get better and it has. It has increased every single game for the most part. As the season goes along, I think she’ll have some big games for us still.”

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