FORT MILL --
Fort Mill senior Hannah-Kate Christopher scored just two points Friday against Indian Land.
Not impressive to the naked eye, but they probably were the most important two points of her life.
Christopher returned to the basketball court that night for her final season of high school hoops after a devastating right-knee injury caused her miss the second half of junior season last year, including the Lady Jackets’ first playoff appearance since 2006.
Known for her aggressive style of play, Christopher is the type of player who sacrifices her body by diving onto or over something or someone to get a loose ball.
Last season while chasing down a pass, Christopher and a Rock Hill High player ran full speed from mid-court to the baseline. Determined to keep the ball from going out of bounds in a close game, Christopher gave up her body to try to get the ball. The only thing stopping her was a concrete wall. She missed a safety pad to her left by a couple of feet.
That pad has now been extended, on both sides of the court, across the entire wall. If that had been done sooner, what followed Christopher’s impact could have been prevented: As she hit the wall at full-speed, her right knee cap took the brunt of the blow, shattering and causing an open compound patella fracture.
She crumpled to the ground in agonizing pain.
“The doctors told me it was the worst basketball related injury they had ever seen,” she said not long after it occurred. “They said it was like a car going 50 mph and hitting my knee.”
All of that was in January.
With an injury that could have meant from 12 to 16 months of recovery time, Christopher fought back and was able to play volleyball this fall and, now, basketball.
“I knew I could get back, but I knew it was going to be a hard road,” she said.
“She is the kind of kid that is going to work hard and not give up,” Fort Mill head coach Christene Benyak said.
Christopher admitted that she was nervous before Friday’s game.
Her father, Fort Mill High Principal Dee Christopher, admitted he was nervous for her, as well.
“She has worked hard to get herself back here,” he said. “She wants to be a part of this team. I am proud of her. This is probably it for her as far as competitive sports goes.”
The younger Christopher credits her faith for helping her push through the pain and the rehab it took to get back ahead of schedule.
“The way I got through everything was with my faith, but at the same time, you had to push through with that in mind, knowing there was a plan and purpose for it,” she said. “If it was the right path for you and it was God’s path for you that it wasn’t going to be something that you couldn’t do.”
Christopher underwent two surgeries and about seven months of rehab, but now she is back and looking to help guide Fort Mill to the playoffs.
She had surgery between volleyball and basketball seasons because of lingering pain and that delayed the start of her senior basketball season.
“With volleyball, there is a constant jumping, and coming down on it was a struggle,” she said. “It made it ache and there was constant pain. It was just a matter of just pushing through.”
Doctors went back into her knee and removed all the hardware they had originally installed to hold it together and cleaned up cartilage around the knee. There could be a third surgery in Christopher’s future if the pain returns – but not until after basketball season is over.
Although basketball is the sport she enjoys most, Christopher said she never thought about forgoing her senior volleyball season.
“I felt as though I needed to be on the team this year to be a leader because we had a lot of younger girls on the team this year,” she said. “I felt the team needed me to be out there as a senior and a leader.”
Because of the severity of the injury, some athletes who aren’t going to play at the next level, like Christopher, would have stepped away. However, she said sports for her are an outlet she needs.
“Just knowing it was something I come to, to get away from everything else, it made me want to push and get back at it,” she said. “But it was something also that I had made a commitment to a team four years ago and I felt like I needed to follow up with that commitment and pursue this season.”
Christopher said there were times when she thought about not pushing herself as hard to get back in time, but then again, her inner drive willed her to forge ahead.
“I couldn’t have done that my whole senior season, and not have the athletic aspect of my life,” she said. “That is something big to drop out of. So I think that in itself was something to make me push through it.”
Last season, Christopher had to become like an assistant coach on the sidelines cheering her team on as they made the playoffs for the first time since Fort Mill High split as Nation Ford High School opened.
“It was hard watching them lose that first playoff game because I felt helpless like I couldn’t help the team any,” she said. “But I was proud of them for getting to that point, so it made it a lot easier.”
Benyak said Christopher’s leadership on the bench shows through even if she can’t be on the court.
“She has been a huge part of our team,” Benyak said. “She still contributes every night. She has always had a great basketball IQ. She is like an assistant coach.”
Christopher said she would like to coach in the future and plans on majoring in elementary education with a minor in mathematics. She is looking at Furman University, Clemson University or the University of Georgia, but is still undecided. She has already been accepted to the University of Alabama.
“I would love to coach in the future,” she said. “I want to coach mainly basketball.”
However, she had no plans on pursuing college athletics.
“I just want to be a student,” she said.