The following article first appeared in the fifth and final issue of Flames Illustrated for the 2013-14 season, which was available at the Vines Center between Feb. 11 and March 1. Catherine Kearney and the No. 2 seed Lady Flames will open defense of their Big South Championship title Thursday at 6 p.m. against either No. 7 seed Presbyterian College or No. 10 seed Longwood. Lady Flames forward Catherine Kearney sees the game of basketball differently than most.
Physically, of course, the 6-foot-6-inch redshirt sophomore has a bird's eye view of the court ("Since I'm so much taller than everyone," Kearney chuckled.) That height, combined with a well-rounded skill set, offers the Lady Flames a strong, unique post presence.
"She has height and speed – she's probably one of our fastest post players," assistant coach Alexis Sherard noted. "She's very talented."
He added that Kearney's looks could deceive, as well – a benefit to the Lady Flames.
"She's a skilled power forward who's pretty comfortable on the perimeter as well," Sherard explained. "She has the ability to play on the inside, obviously, but also has a shooting range to the three-point line, so she's a very versatile player."
Mentally, Kearney has the knowledge necessary to see the game in Xs and Os; the result of having spent her share of time both on and off the court.
After an impressive freshman year, Kearney tallied six points and four rebounds in her 2012-13 debut. Just six appearances later, though, her basketball season ended in injury.
"I dislocated my kneecap in practice the day before our first scrimmage, but nothing tore the first time, so I had rehab for a couple of weeks and then came back," she recalled. "In December, in a home game, I completely dislocated it; and this time it didn't go back on by itself."
The dislocation tore the medial patellofemoral ligament (MPFL) in Kearney's knee, requiring surgery in February of last year and recovery from there on out.
"I never would have expected being injured to be a lot of work," Kearney admitted, chuckling. "It's definitely different, and you just have to be consistent with [rehab] and work at it. Definitely, the trainers and coaches were so encouraging and helped me through the process a lot."
Beyond assistance in physical recovery, though, Kearney also found insight into the game through time spent with the staff surrounding her team.
"She was out, so she was kind of on the coaching side of things: observing, critiquing, encouraging," Sherard commented. "I think having that time to reflect and kind of see the game through our eyes has helped her try to push herself a little bit harder – and push her teammates even more so – because now she knows what it looks like from the sidelines."
"I think you definitely gain a lot of knowledge," Kearney agreed, "just because when you're sitting out you can listen to everything so much more closely. You're not tired, so that doesn't distract you, and just watching the coaches and post players last year helped me a lot."
Her attitude toward the game in general, too, saw a shift post-injury. While entitlement – to minutes, plays and accolades – runs rampant in the world of sports, especially for young college athletes, Kearney expressed gratitude for the ability to play, period.
"That I'm actually able to play now is just so exciting," she declared. "To have the option to even be on the court, even if it's just for a bit – it's exciting to be able to play."
Emotionally, Kearney sees the game from a very personal vantage point. After all, basketball is a family tradition for the redshirt sophomore. Parents Steve and Kate Kearney both played for Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia.
"Both my parents always give me a lot of advice and encouragement because of that," Kearney relayed with a smile.
That hardwood heritage also made the Lady Flames' matchup with the Hawks in November of this season extra meaningful for Kearney, who recalled with enthusiasm the experience of playing the sport she and her parents love on what was their home court.
"Yeah, that was a special game. CK's parents are very involved in her basketball life," Sherard confirmed with a grin, referring to his forward by her nickname, "but also her social, academic – all aspects of her life, really. They're great parents, they've done a great job with her and I know they're very close. They talk almost every day."
From emotional roots to mental knowledge to physical stature; in every aspect, from every angle, Kearney possesses a unique perspective on the game of basketball. With her back playing at full health and surrounded by a roster of talented teammates, there's no need for fans to be shortsighted when it comes to the remainder of the season. Kearney and the rest of the Lady Flames see themselves going far.
------ Ryley Rush is a Liberty University junior and is a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics.
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