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Jeff Kolpack, Published August 18 2012

Bison teammates deal with ACL injuries in the same season


She came to a simple jump stop late in the season, and at that moment, the world of basketball according to Jamie Van Kirk came to a halt. A quiet Bison Sports Arena was interrupted only by the painful screams of the North Dakota State women’s basketball player.

Almost everybody could feel the diagnosis before it was diagnosed. Three of the most sour letters in athletics: A-C-L. That was in late February, on the final home weekend of the season.

Van Kirk was carried over to an entry way to the Bison locker room on the northwest side of the BSA bleachers. The eyes of most of the fans were on NDSU’s game with Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis, but it took just an occasional glance at the NDSU training personnel working on Van Kirk’s leg to know the news was not promising.

A parent was there, watching every move.

“I think when it happened, I was more worried about the surgery and how you’re going to come back,” Van Kirk said a couple of months later.

It was the second time that season that NDSU suffered that kind of news. The first, an ACL tear to Katie Birkel, carried a different kind of fear, probably because she was the team’s best returning player.

She had already gone over 1,000 career points and was counted on to be the team’s leader. The mantra in the prior season, after all, was as Katie Birkel went, so did the Bison.

It turns out she would have to be the leader from the end of the bench.

It was not the preseason hype the team was looking for.

Birkel was hurt during a drill in practice, landing awkwardly on her leg. Bison head coach Carolyn DeHoff said she just froze.

“Right when I hit the floor, I knew what had happened,” Birkel said.

Birkel and Van Kirk had more in common than just their Nebraska high school backgrounds. Birkel is from Lincoln and Van Kirk from Sutton, located 75 miles southwest of Lincoln.

They are both strong and athletic guards who fit in at the Division I level.

This fall, both will be counted on to do it again. By the nature of the timing of the injuries, Birkel is expected to be well ahead of Van Kirk in the rehabilitation process. But both should be cleared to play at full tilt.

“Katie Birkel is already comfortable,” DeHoff said recently. “It’s a matter of how much contact but that will come with time. I expect both of them to be back; very much so.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia

Kolpack is the host of the WDAY Golf Show Saturdays

from 8-9 a.m. on 970-AM.