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Baranek: No quit in Kaitlyn Ray

Former Lincoln-Way West basketball player current University St. Francis player Kaitlyn Ray is ungoing her fourth rehab for knee injury.

Former Lincoln-Way West basketball player, and current University of St. Francis player, Kaitlyn Ray is ungoing her fourth rehab for a knee injury. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 9, 2013 6:08AM



For Kaitlyn Ray, it almost was like a regularly scheduled fire drill.

Injure her knee, go see the doctor, get the surgery and dive into rehab.

Only this time, the fourth painful time, the drill was a little different.

This time there was an option laid out for the former Lincoln-Way West and current University of St. Francis women’s basketball player.

“When I met with the doctor,” Ray said, “he asked me, ‘Do you want to get it fixed?’

“I said, ‘Of course, I want to get it fixed. Why?’

“Then he said, “Well, you don’t have to get it fixed if you don’t want to play basketball anymore.’ ”

Anybody who knows Kaitlyn Ray knows how the rest of that conversation went.

This is one story I really and truly wasn’t hoping to revisit — at least not from this perspective.

It was tough enough to relate the first time, when as a junior at West, she injured her left knee and had to have surgery.

Then during her senior year came an injury to her right knee. Ray played through it before having surgery and vowing to be back in time for her freshman year at St. Francis.

Before she ever had a chance to dribble the ball on the court for the Fighting Saints she retore the meniscus in her left knee and had to redshirt.

How wonderful it was to hear her say on a late February day in 2012, “I’m not done yet … Honestly, this is the first time in two years that I’ve felt pain-free. I feel good.”

Ray began the 2012-13 season for St. Francis. She played in 16 games, starting in eight. She was averaging 18 minutes, 4.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and hit nine three-pointers.

On Jan. 13, two minutes into that 16th game, after grabbing her first rebound of the night …

Yeah, it happened again.

“When I was going up the floor I went to pass,” Ray said. “I pushed off my left leg and it just gave out.”

An MRI, which never seems to bring her good news, revealed an ACL tear and, if she wanted to try to play basketball again, the need for a third surgery on her left knee.

Ray didn’t even think twice.

“After he asked me that (whether she wanted to quit) I was like, ‘I wasn’t even thinking about not playing as long as you say it’s OK. I don’t want to end my basketball career early unless I’m told I have to.’

“He told me, ‘You’re a tough kid. We’ll help you get where you want to be.’ ”

This is one doctor who knows his patient.

I honestly can say I’ve never known a young athlete quite as determined as Kaitlyn Ray. I’ve certainly never known one who went through two surgeries and came back, let alone four.

She started her high school career as a freshman at Lincoln-Way Central, playing two years for the Knights before transferring to the new school to the West.

One of the first times I took serious notice of her was as a sophomore playing for Central against Sandburg. Ray scored 17 points and looked fearless despite her age.

Little did I know at the time Ray was once considered a better softball shortstop than a basketball player.

“If you ask my dad he’ll say that I could have played at Alabama,” Ray said, laughing.

“When I quit softball for basketball everyone was amazed,” she said. “They said, ‘You’re making the stupidest decision.’

“But basketball was my passion. I just love the game so much.”

The injury she suffered as a junior at West cost Ray a shot at a Division I scholarship. But it didn’t dim her relentless pursuit of success.

Despite missing parts of her junior and senior seasons at West, Ray still managed to reach 1,000 points in her varsity career.

“After (Division I) schools started backing out, the one thing that kept me going was hitting my 1,000th point my senior year,” she said. “When it happened (Dec. 11, 2010, against Romeoville), that was one of my favorite moments. I have pictures, but I don’t need them. I’ll never forget that.”

She said she’ll also never forget the faith St. Francis had in recruiting her, and in keeping that faith through this latest chapter. Which brings us to what lies ahead.

Ray had her surgery in early February. It brought good news, if you can believe it.

“It turned out to be a clean ACL tear,” she said. “That was a positive because (the doctor) said if my meniscus damage was worse, he wouldn’t let me play anymore because of future problems that could come up. They only had to clip a little bit of the meniscus, so they said I should have a full, normal recovery.”

Ray expects to be cleared to play basketball by early November. She hopes to be playing in games by Christmas.

She said her latest boost of confidence came from Connecticut point guard Caroline Doty, who was made aware of Ray’s situation by St. Francis coach Sam Quigley.

“She’s a fifth-year senior and she’s had three ACL tears,” Ray said. “She sent me this huge email to keep on fighting. She emphasized how the rewards outweigh the negatives. That was a big motivator for me.”

So is the assurance from Quigley that when Ray completes the fourth rehab her spot on the roster will be waiting.

“She’s a pretty special kid,” Quigley said. “I’ve had to overcome my share of (knee) surgeries, but not to the extent that she has.

“Kaitlyn is such a positive person. The way she is handling all of this is what you want your younger players to look up to.

“We won’t turn her away.”



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