Certain events in a person’s life make such a strong impression it becomes indelible in their minds. Psychologists call it an imprint memory.
For the daughter-father duo of Alex and Brandon Kandolin, that moment came early in St. Thomas More’s girls' basketball season.
“It was the third game of the basketball season, so December 22,” Brandon Kandolin said. “We were playing Hill City, and in the second quarter she was running down the court. She was just across half court and she planted to turn around and her right knee gave out.”
“There was no contact. I was just running over to close out and, as I stepped, I hyperextended my knee, and then as I planted and twisted. It just popped,” Alex Kandolin said, echoing her dad and coach’s recollection of the injury. “I knew right when it popped, I was like, ‘That's going to be bad.’ I was hoping it was a sprain because I walked off the court. I had no swelling, no pain or anything. But that just meant it was a complete ACL tear.”
With that one simple, everyday on-court move, Kandolin’s senior basketball season was over. With her loss, the Lady Cavaliers’ chances of winning a sixth straight state Class A title took a hit. Kandolin’s last season of high school golf was now in jeopardy.
“I was pretty upset,” Kandolin said. “I'm going into our final season of basketball, and then, it’s a big year for golf. But, things happen.”
Fast forward four months from the date of her injury and Kandolin is standing on the practice green at Hart Ranch Golf Course, working on her short game. Surgery to repair her torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and a lot of rehabilitation are in the rearview. She’s not back to 100% yet, but her recovery is on track.
“It was crazy. I couldn't lift my leg. I couldn't mentally think of lifting my leg after the surgery. I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to be a long, long recovery,’” Kandolin said. “But today I got to go run for the first time, so that was pretty cool.
“It's coming along, but it's really hard to keep motivating myself to go do the little workouts that I can. I don't feel like I'm doing much, but it's really helping.”
Despite all the progress Kandolin has made over the last four months, she’s still not sure she’ll be ready to chase the state Class A individual championship that has eluded her since her first varsity season as a seventh-grader. She finished 14th that year and has improved her state-tournament finish each year since, including a runner-up finish to Belle Fourche’s Payson Birkeland.
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Kandolin has yet to be released to resume swinging a golf club by the physician who did her ACL surgery, Dr. Steve Giuseffi. She’ll reach a key milestone next week when she goes in for a checkup.
“Alex has a big appointment coming up to get an idea of where her progression is at and what the possibility is for her to possibly play in the high school season,” said the elder Kandolin, who is in his sixth year as the Cavaliers’ girls' golf coach and just wrapped up his 18th season as head girls basketball coach at St. Thomas More. “She’ll continue to strengthen everything that she needs to and take it slow, and we’ll see if there's the possibility that she can start swinging her clubs.”
The younger Kandolin is taking a deliberate approach to the coming high school season. As much as she wants to play her senior year, she’s also focused on getting herself into top playing shape for this year’s summer golf tournaments. She wants to be back to full strength when she begins her collegiate career this fall at South Dakota State University.
“Dr. Giuseffi will say if I'll be able to play or not,” Kandolin said. “Coach (Casey) VanDamme doesn't really want me to pursue this season in order to be fully healed for next year.
“I hope in May I'll be able to swing a little bit. The doctor, he doesn't want me straining my knee.”
The Black Hills Conference meet on May 9 is one date marked on the Kandolins’ calendar. The conference meet could help Alex sharpen her game ahead of the Region 4A tournament on May 23 and the state tournament on June 3-4.
The state-qualifying Region 4A tournament will be played at Rocky Knolls golf course in Custer. Rocky Knolls is a hilly course, and that will present challenges to someone coming off ACL reconstruction than walking a flat course.
“The physical aspect is a huge part of the game. We average about six miles walking a tournament. And pushing your clubs, it gets heavy,” Kandolin said. “There’s a lot of outside elements that really play into the game of golf, so it’s hard to overcome those while trying to stay competitive for a six-hour round. That physical part, it doesn't sound fun right now.”
Regardless of whether his daughter plays this high school season or not, the elder Kandolin is proud of his daughter’s determination to come back from a severe knee injury.
“I know she's handled it better than I would,” Kandolin said with a smile. “She is very religious about going to her appointments, going to the therapist and then doing the exercises and icing and doing what is necessary. She wants to get back to where she was before this happened.”