For the rest of this 2019-20 season, you’ll find Taylor Kissinger on the Nebraska bench with a clipboard instead of sneakers, helping serve a new role for a 15-5 Husker squad hungry to accomplish things Nebraska hasn’t accomplished in a while.
She’s in charge of tracking game-specific stats. If the gameplan for that particular opponent calls for an increased number of paint touches for post players Kate Cain or Ashtyn Veerbeek or Issie Bourne, Kissinger is the one tracking that. Deflections, too. She’s got a hand in awarding that Top Dog award.
It’s not the most comfortable position for Kissinger to be in— “There’s no question that being an active participant is way more comfortable to her than taking on that coach role,” head coach Amy Williams said—but she’s certainly more comfortable now than she was a few months ago.
Following a Jan. 3 surgery to repair a labral tear in her hip, one that came by as a result of a stress reaction in March of 2019 that Kissinger played through, the junior from Minden, Nebraska, is once again having to adjust to an extended absence from basketball. She can’t sit at 90 degrees for too long.
She can still be a little active on the bench, though.
“Just bringing the energy,” she said. “That was my biggest thing, everyone would look at me for a laugh, look at me for a smile, so just keep trying to do that for my team.”
Ask about injuries and the response will be “which one?” Before high school, she broke her arm. She missed nearly 30 games over her junior and senior seasons of high school because of broken wrists. A knee injury her freshman year put her on the bench for a month. A concussion in practice just after the season-opener cost her four games.
In sports, an “ability” to stay healthy is becoming considered something of a skill, but sometimes it’s just about luck. Sometimes it’s just the hand you’re dealt and you have to make the most of your situation. Kissinger started feeling discomfort in her hip last March, but decided to play through it. Over the course of the 2018-19 season, the wing shooter was one of the best 3-point shooters in all of college basketball and led the Big Ten with a 45.6% shooting clip that tied the Nebraska single-season program record.
After the season she took about two months off. When the pain persisted, she went in for an MRI, where doctors discovered a hip impingement. “Basically there’s bone growth on my hip,” Kissinger said, so she had an arthroscopic procedure that shaved the growth off.
Nebraska took the cautious route with Kissinger this offseason, resting her for most of preseason activities so as to not aggravate anything, and she took a cortisone shot in October. The goal was to get through her junior year, have surgery after and then prepare for her senior year.
She returned from the concussion against Creighton on Nov. 24 and played 13 minutes, but she didn’t score. Over the next three games, her minutes steadily increased along with her production. In the Huskers’ 83-79 win over Duke in the B1G/ACC Challenge on Dec. 4, Kissinger played a season-high 25 minutes, shot 6-of-9 from beyond the arc and paced the team with 19 points.
“After the Duke game I honestly probably slept maybe an hour or two that night because it just kept me up all night,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt when I’m playing, but it’s after, when the adrenaline goes away.”
On Dec. 14, after a win over Oral Roberts, Williams announced Kissinger was done for the year. Williams said it was tough to swallow the news coming right after Kissinger’s best game of the season, but that the junior viewed the surgery more as a necessary step for her future as a basketball player and the game as a satisfying reminder of what she’s capable of.
Kissinger went out to Minnesota to get a second medical opinion. All along she had been told she wouldn’t do further damage by playing, but that it was just a matter of pain tolerance for her. Williams obviously wouldn’t want to lose a key member of a team that, after that Duke game, was 8-1, but there were factors more important than wins and losses. Kissinger had a two-inch labral tear.
“Once she got to the point where she was having trouble trying to sleep through the night because of the aching pain in that hip, we felt like it was a mutual decision with her family, her trainers, he doctors, herself and myself just to say, ‘Listen, it’s not worth it anymore,’” Williams said. “When it got to that point we knew it was time.”
Kissinger’s first thought when it was made clear her season was over?
“Hannah Whitish, Nicea Eliely, Grace Mitchell, Kristian Hudson, all the seniors, first thought, never going to play with them again,” she said.
“That was the toughest decision, figuring out with them if that was not necessarily going to be OK with them but if we’d still have that relationship off the court. That was huge for me because Hannah Whitish has been my best friend since freshman year when I walked on campus. We’ve just had that connection, so that was my hardest person to tell. I would sit and cry about it because it was really hard to tell her and Coach Williams.”
Whitish was “bummed” that their days of playing together were over, but nothing changed.
“We still have that relationship, we go out to eat together all the time, still talk all the time, we never lost it,” Kissinger said. “That was huge. Kind of lifted me up, too, when I was going through that time.”
The plan is to get a medical redshirt for Kissinger now, and she’ll rejoin the team on the court in June or July to start getting ready for the season. She currently goes through physical therapy twice a day for an hour each time.
Sometimes that’s the toughest part. Post-surgery pain is different from the pain you feel before. Lower-body injuries can get an athlete down. Repeated injuries can take their toll. It’s not uncommon to see someone in Kissinger’s situation want to start fresh somewhere else. Asked if, at any point in her playing career, she’s thought she might just need to get away, Kissinger was emphatic.
“No. Nebraska’s always been home. I love everyone around it, love my teammates, love my coaches, love the environment. It’s home for me, so I’m not going anywhere.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.