WHEATLAND – To lose a game to injury in sports can be devastating to the student athlete, the parents and the coaches. To lose a year from your sport is heartbreaking, but to face that kind of pain a second time is beyond comprehension.
Wheatland High School junior, Kendall Schaffner is crossing that bridge of adversity a second time in three years. After losing her freshman year to a knee injury, she came back with a vengeance and helped her team get to the state tournament in 2020 and earned not only All-Conference honors, but also achieved an All-State award in volleyball.
A second injury to the same area can be career-ending or it can be character building. It can be destructive or it can be opportunistic to build and strengthen other areas.
There are few young athletes who have it happen twice, and few have the mental toughness to get past the “what-ifs” in their training regimen during the comeback. Schaffner, though has been cut from a cloak of armor and although disappointed, nothing is stopping her from another comeback.
Not only did she help get the team back to state, but then at the tournament also amassed 46 digs, hit 94% of her serves, produced 11 kills with her thundering spike and had a 98% on serve receive.
“I began playing volleyball in the third grade,” she said. “But I’ve been in the gym like, forever.”
In going back to recall the moments of the first injury, Schaffner had incredible recollection. It would be her very first high school game, playing varsity as a freshman.
“It was the first game of the season last year,” she said. “I got on the bus and it was all good. In the game, it was the first spike of the game and I came down wrong and hurt my knee.”
Another recollection that was very clear came from Kendall’s mom, Lindsay Schaffner who was not just a parent in the stands, but was the varsity head volleyball coach on the sidelines.
“We were up, 6 to 4, I believe it was and Ken went up to take a swing,” Lindsay said. “As a freshman we started that whole crew as freshmen as well. She was super excited. I remember that morning being really excited as a mom of a freshman that’s going to start here with her first varsity match. She went up and the set was on the other side of her body and she twisted and came down and it was just a freak fall as she landed on her left knee.”
The awkward angle that ensued was described as gruesome and a moment that was recorded on film, but she says that they try to avoid watching it.
“I can still picture her face,” Lindsay said. “Looking at me when she fell and she grabbed her knee and she said ‘it hurts, it hurts,’ and I can still picture that part of it. Just knowing as a mom and coach, the amount of work that she put into her craft; that was hard. Out indefinitely and not knowing what was going on. She brings a sense of confidence to the girls like this year that they didn’t have last year.”
“I tore my ACL and meniscus,” Kendall said. “I had to have an ACL repair, so they drilled a hole in my femur which was still attached to the tibia, and then they shoved the ACL into the hole in the femur and tied it off.”
Lindsay said that the type of surgery was done was not a full reconstruction due to her age. The decision to do the surgery in this manner was determined by the Orthopedic of the Rockies in Fort Collins.
After a year of rehabilitation followed by a year of great victory both for the team and individually, Schaffner was looking forward to her junior year with great anticipation.
That anticipation was gone in a moment. On the WHS track during the offseason and a tedious training session.
“On July 7 I was sprinting and I just felt it pull,” Kendall said. “I didn’t think it was bad and then I got an MRI the next day and I found out I had retorn the ACL. Even after I hear the news, I was pretty confident that I was going to play on it this year, but when we saw the surgeon, he said if I tried to play, I could permanently damage my knee.”
As she recalled that appointment, tears came into her eyes as she recalled the crushing news.
“I think this year as I recover, I can still help the team with the defense a lot,” Kendall said realizing that instructing wouldn’t have been her first choice. “And just being another coach, I guess. It will be pretty tough but I did it before, so I can do it again.”
As a parent, there is something sickening in the stomach when they have to watch a sick or recovering child.
“To say this has been a trying time would be an understatement,” Lindsay said. “I know without a doubt Ken will put in the work to come back stronger than ever this spring when we start up the AAU season. As a mom it’s heart breaking to see your kid go through something like this twice. To see her put her heart and soul into a sport she loves and then to have it taken away is tough. As a coach it’s tough losing your all state player, team captain and one of your leaders. She is a huge reason why Wheatland VB is headed in the right direction.”
The team had prepared and strategized throughout the summer season with Kendall anchoring the team, but on short notice the coaching staff was scrambling to find the next winning combination.
“She will definitely still have a leadership role this season, which is different from what she wanted but still a leadership role,” Lindsay said. “She sees the court so well and I’m hoping she can teach our younger athletes some of that. Her VB IQ is high and she will be helping her Varsity teammates as well. She knows this will make her stronger in the long run. She will be back for a great spring season and senior year. In the meantime, she will be doing her part to get our Bulldogs back to the state tournament.”
Kendall can actually get out and run on the reconstructed knee in four months. The repair this time was different from the first time.
“Since her growth plates were open last time they chose to repair her ACL with stitches,” Lindsay said. “We knew the success rate of that surgery wasn’t great. 5 inches later they were able to do the whole reconstruction with a much higher success rate. Her rehab is going well.”
Although the surgeons want her to be careful and are encouraging to take her time with the recovery, she is anticipating running and jumping in December.
“I can be competitive again in about six months,” Kendall said. “But the surgeon wants to slow it down because he said that every month you don’t push it, you won’t tear it as easy, so I am thinking eight months.”
Kendall who has a passion for her sport is going to concentrate on rehabilitation and just finishing out her career at Wheatland playing volleyball, her first love.
As to how the team will do without her, she said, “It’s going to be rough, but I know that they can compete with a lot of teams in the conference. They will be all right.”
She’s also convinced that they can go back to state. She has a confidence in her team, a confidence in her coach and a confidence in her recovery. Many would say the odds are against her, but she is the kind of athlete who, when you tell her what she can’t do, she will show you what she can do.
She now not only exemplifies, but walks in the phrase, “courage under fire.”