Wristen: Injury doesn’t dampen Jensen’s final tourney
Topeka No throbbing headache was going to spoil these moments for Kristen Jensen.
Jensen, the team captain for the Lansing High volleyball team, gazed out at the court at the Kansas Expocentre on Saturday afternoon. A warm smile glowed on her face and a shiny fourth-place medal dangled from her neck.
She was back with her teammates, so she was happy.
Ninety minutes earlier she'd exited the arena with blood-soaked bandages wrapped around her head and a ghostly glare radiating from her eyes.
With her team trailing Bishop Miege, 20-12, late in game one of the semifinals at the Class 5A volleyball state tournament, Jensen charged after a ball that was sailing out of bounds, dove head first and swung her left fist at it in desperation. The momentum of the swing twisted her body, and the back right side of her head smashed into the scorer's table. She hopped to her feet, but assistant coach Amy Turner sat Jensen back down as on-site emergency medical technicians raced to her aid.
"They were wrapping my head up, and I was like, 'Can I play in this? I don't understand. Does this mean I'm going back out there?" Jensen recalled. "I was not aware of what was going on at all."
Jensen wasn't going back on the court. She was headed straight to the hospital for stitches. Her season was over.
Jensen's final play and her painful exit exemplified both how much Lansing High volleyball meant to her and, equally important, how much she meant to the team.
An anterior cruciate ligament tear in her left knee derailed a sophomore season in which Jensen was showing rapid progress and becoming a varsity contender. The recovery process was slow and tedious, however, and she lacked the same on-court confidence as a junior. A shaky season and a loss in the substate finals lit a fire in Jensen, and she vowed that her senior season would be different.
"Last year was my transforming year," she said. "I had to work my butt off to do the stuff I did."
She worked out daily and made a greater commitment to club volleyball. In the process, she regained confidence in her knee and she grew close with her Lansing teammates that also were putting in considerable work.
By the first day of practice this fall Jensen was running faster and jumping higher than ever before.
She played multiple roles on the court for the Lions, sometimes setting, sometimes hitting, constantly communicating and always hustling. She was their conscience all season long.
"She played the whole floor and was really kind of the hub for our team," LHS coach Julie Slater said. "She was our leader."
The Lions tried to rally in Jensen's absence but dropped a 25-21, 25-21 decision to Newton in the consolation match.
"We missed her spirit on the floor," sophomore Lisa Angello said.
Jensen returned to the bench in time to watch the last points against Newton, to walk through the handshake line, to be in the final team huddle and receive state medals. She shed a few tears, shared plenty of hugs and savored the last few moments - moments she almost missed - with the team she led and loved.
Even with her head pounding and her scalp sore from the stitches, Jensen wore a look of satisfaction on her face.
"You know, I'd do it again : I would," she said of the play that led to her injury. Then, with a laugh, she added, "This time I'd probably catch myself before I fell, but I'd do it again.
"Our team is like that. Our entire team would do that. It's one for the other. It's a team."