Injury doesn't stop Penn senior Knapp

Jess Knapp tore up her left knee on Dec. 30 but was determined to finish out her senior season.
Jess Knapp tore up her left knee on Dec. 30 but was determined to finish out her senior season. (SHUMITA BASU / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: March 01, 2012

HOBBLING OFF the floor on Dec. 30 against San Diego State, Penn senior captain Jess Knapp didn't need a doctor to know that she had torn her left ACL.

A defensive stalwart at power forward for the Quakers, Knapp had already lost her freshman season to an ACL injury to her right knee. She was intent on not letting it happen again.

"It was only nine games into my last season and my freshman year was taken from me," Knapp said. "When this happened, I was finally hitting my stride, so I said there is no way - I can't go out on this note."

Knapp was on crutches after the game when Quakers head coach Mike McLaughlin tried to comfort her.

"He was at a loss for words, telling me that sometimes you get handed these cards. I looked right at him and said, 'Coach, I'm going to play.' "

McLaughlin wasn't surprised by her reaction, but he did what good coaches do. Her urged Knapp not to think about it until she sees the doctor.

Within the next week, Knapp was diagnosed with a torn ACL, torn MCL and a small tear in her posterior meniscus in her left knee. It was worse than she expected, but she was told there was only a 10 percent risk of further injuring the knee. She could be cleared to play after rehab since she was a senior.

Penn was off to the best start in program history at 7-2. Without the 5-11 Knapp anchoring the middle, the team lost six straight. After a month of building up the strength in her knee, Knapp returned in a limited role on Jan 27. To no one's surprise, the Quakers stopped their slide in a win over Columbia.

Knapp, in her second year as team captain, is the consummate leader. Modest and loyal, she has told anyone who has asked that every player in the Penn locker room would do the same thing.

Her coach is not so sure.

"Jess says everyone would do it, but I'm not quite sure that's true," McLaughlin said. "I think Jess is special in this case.

"She doesn't want the publicity for it, but what she is doing for the university, her team and the younger girls, I think is special."

There are no scholarships for Ivy League athletes and at 11-14 (4-7 in the Ivy) the Quakers' chances at postseason play are slim. Knapp is enduring pain and risking further injury simply because she enjoys playing. And she believes that the program, which is currently underclassman-heavy, is headed in the right direction.

"I'm not doing it to motivate or inspire the younger players. I'm doing it because I want to play and I want to play well," she said.

"If I can help my team out in any way, then that is what I want to do. I want us to be the best we can be."

While Knapp is vocal on the floor and in the locker room, the strength of her leadership lies in the example she sets with her work ethic and dedication.

"I think the players see what it takes for her to play - she walks around before games with a machine that helps her leg - and they can only look and say wow," McLaughlin said.

Knapp chose Penn in part because, when she initially walked into the Palestra, everything seemed to fit. Now she wants to walk out for the last time on her terms.

"I just want to make it through," she said. "It is such a bittersweet feeling - I don't want my senior season to end - but I also do, because that will mean I made it through."

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