Geneva product Kat Yelle went to Ohio University on a mission to help build a winning women’s basketball program and – despite a series of injuries that forced her to miss most of last season and virtually all of this season – she plans on completing that mission.
Yelle was highly recruited by college coaches during a successful high school career that included first team all-state honors as a senior. She had offers from higher profile NCAA Division I programs, but turned them down in favor of Ohio.
“I could’ve went bigger,” Yelle said. “I wanted to go someplace where I was actually going to be needed. I wanted to go someplace where I could help turn it around.”
Her college career got off to a good start as the 5-foot-7 point guard started the first 11 games of her freshman season. But late in that 11th game – against Oklahoma at a Christmas tournament in Las Vegas – everything changed.
“There was like five minutes left in the game or so,” Yelle recalls. “I was coming down on a fast break, went up for a jump stop and tore the ACL and left meniscus in my right knee.”
The season-ending injury came one game over the limit for her to receive a medical redshirt for the year.
“That was a big letdown,” Yelle says.
By the summer, she was running again, and was cleared to take part in preseason workouts.
“I was getting back into preseason condition and things were going really well,” she said.
Then at one of the first practices of the season in October – “I just planted my foot wrong and something popped,” Yelle said.
It was the right knee again, though at first, trainers were not sure what the problem was. Yelle went home that weekend to celebrate her siblings’ birthdays.
“While I was home, it just ballooned up,” she says. “I spent the whole weekend on the couch.”
An MRI revealed she had torn the meniscus again and she would miss the first four to six weeks of the season.
So it was back to the rehabbing routine for Yelle. By the time the team went to New York City for another Christmas tournament a couple of months ago, the knee was feeling pretty good.
“They weren’t planning on playing me there, but I was doing so well in rehab they cleared me to do limited minutes.”
She played six minutes against Manhattan, scoring four points.
“It was great being back out there,” Yelle says. “I got my confidence back.”
That good feeling didn’t last long. At one of the first practices after Christmas break, her right knee again gave out.
“Nothing really happened. I didn’t even notice it,” Yelle says. “That night it started ballooning up and getting really swollen.”
It was Jan. 4, the day before the Bobcats were scheduled to play Xavier.
Yelle missed the Saturday game, had an MRI the following Monday, and surgery on Tuesday. The meniscus was again the culprit. Yelle said the surgeon didn’t remove enough of it in the earlier surgery.
“He was trying to save my knee for when I was done with basketball,” she said.
These days, Yelle is settling into a now too-familiar routine.
“The hardest part is just the rehabbing. You get so frustrated,” she said. “It’s just really mentally exhausting and frustrating when you can’t do some of the things you used to do.”
Yelle admits she gets depressed sometimes, but she is trying to keep a positive outlook.
“I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason,” she says. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence I did this right before our first conference game.”
Had she played even one minute in that game, Yelle would have lost another full season of eligibility. With the season Ohio is having (5-17 overall, 0-10 in the MAC), there’s no reason for her to try to rush her recovery to return before it ends. But the goal of turning the program around remains a driving force for her.
“I’m hungrier than ever to just be back there on the court. I can’t wait,” Yelle said. “I still want to accomplish the big task ahead of me.”
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes a weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle about area athletes competing in college. If you have a column idea, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org