The Gator Girls’ Basketball team was facing the Stephen-Argyle Storm at home on January 7. During the game, Gator senior player Kianna Novacek would stop really hard on a play and feel something off, wondering if she tore something.
Soon after, just 26 seconds out of a Gator timeout, Kianna would shoot and make a jumper to cut into the Gator deficit midway through the first half, but when she came down to the floor after the shot her athletic season would take a turn. She fell to the floor in pain, left the game and later discovered that her initial feelings would be confirmed.
“I felt a pop and then I don’t remember anything after until everybody was watching me,” Kianna said. “And they kind of thought, ‘No, I don’t think it’s the ACL. I think you’re going to be fine.’ And then when I went to get my MRI, I (discovered that I) tore my ACL completely and I have an impact fracture in my tibia.”
Kianna discussed her journey from this injury to the end of her Gator sports career. This career would end with her putting on the eighteenth hole at Pebble Creek Golf Club in Becker on June 12 in her fourth and final appearance at the Minnesota State High School League Class A State Girls’ Golf Tournament.
Her mom Karen, younger sister and basketball and golf teammate Anissah, and Gator Head Golf Coach Brady Johnson shared their thoughts too. Kianna also discussed her entire Gator golf career and her future plans on and off the greens.
Kianna found a spot on the Gator Girls’ Golf Varsity team her freshman season and experienced immediate success. She qualified for the state tournament as an individual in her freshman and sophomore seasons.
During her junior season, she led her team to a section team championship and seventh place state team finish. Then, as a senior, she returned from her ACL injury to lead the Gators to another section team championship and a fourth place state team finish– an accomplishment she is proud that her team achieved. During this state tournament, she shot a two-day score of 179 and earned a twelfth place finish—both state tournament career bests.
Getting to the state golf tournament her senior season at times didn’t appear to be a possibility to some after she suffered her ACL injury.
“(After my injury) I didn’t even think about, ‘I can’t golf in the spring’ until I called my coach (Brady Johnson) and he said, ‘Kianna, you’re not going to be able to golf,’” Kianna said. “And I was like, ‘What?’… I was worried about not playing basketball anymore, not about missing a whole season of my favorite sport (golf).”
As for recovery, Kianna and her family discovered that it usually lasts six to nine months. Asked what she thought when she first heard about this, she said she thought about golfing left handed instead, given this injury occurred on her left leg. As a right-handed golfer, she puts all her weight on the left leg at the end of her swing. She didn’t make this switch though.
“I wanted to golf. That’s all I wanted to do,” Kianna said. “And if I would have switched… there would have been no weight on my left leg, and now that’s what I pivot and turn on when I swing. And I still struggle. At state they watched me and they could tell right away that I would really favor my leg.”
She had goals going into her senior golf season and didn’t want this injury to deter her from reaching them.
“I was just so dead set on I just need to golf because last year after my junior year I had such a bad finish at state and I was just like, ‘This (senior season) was suppose to be my year to really make it up, improve it,’” Kianna said. “I had all these high goals and then when I tear it (ACL), I’m like, ‘No, I’m golfing because this is suppose to be my year.’”
She would have surgery on February 18 and then the work to recovery began, one filled with many tears. She did admittedly encounter some negative thoughts during this process.
“To people I think I was more like, ‘Yeah, I can do it,’ but by myself I always had doubts of like, ‘Can I actually do this?’ And so that’s probably why I worked a lot harder,” Kianna said.
Kianna’s mom Karen wasn’t surprised her daughter returned from this injury, always believing she could thanks to her determination. Coach Johnson has called Novacek a fierce competitor in the past and, when asked about her comeback, he explained how her determined personality as both a person and athlete was on display.
“She was not willing to give up her senior year as a golfer. She wasn’t willing to give up on herself. She wasn’t willing to give up on her team and she knew what she had to do to get back against many odds and against all kinds of adversity,” Coach Johnson said. “… It’s really a phenomenal story that we even had her back. Her athleticism and her personality will certainly not ever be able to be replaced.”
When Kianna went to the score’s table following her final hole at state, she looked up and saw her younger sister and teammate Anissah waiting for her and noticed the little quiver in her lips.
“The little quiver? Did you hear the loon call?” Karen asked laughing, when talking about Anissah’s reaction in that moment.
“When I saw her (Anissah), I broke down,” Kianna said. “… I just covered my eyes and I just cried and I cried,” Kianna said.
A junior this fall, Anissah joined golf during her freshman year. She explained why she was so emotional in that moment at state.
“I was just like, ‘Dang, I wish I would have joined golf earlier, so I could play more with Kianna, and it was just so fun,” Anissah said. “… It was just very sad because now she’s done and we don’t have another chance (to play together).”
Before she fell to the gym floor in pain on that January 7 night, Kianna had that competitive, fierce fire—to set goals and go after them—inside of her. She got off that gym floor, bounced back from an ACL injury, and led the Gator Girls’ Golf team’s drive to another section title and state tournament berth. This fierce, competitive fire remained lit through her final putt and after she walked off those greens as the last time as a Gator athlete.
To see the complete story, read the July 31 issue of The Tribune in print or online.