In the late summer of 2017, Kenna Hamlin heard her right knee pop during a soccer scrimmage.
She didn't step on the field again, nor the basketball court or lacrosse field during her junior year. She watched as her teammates completed the soccer season without her. She watched from the bench when Fallon won its second-straight basketball title at Lawlor Events Center. And again, she watched from the sidelines when Oasis Academy posted its best lacrosse season, coming two wins shy from going to state.
But now, in her final year in Fallon, she has come back stronger and has the Lady Wave basketball team two wins away from winning another state title. No. 1 Fallon faces No. 2 Boulder City from the south in today’s 11 a.m. 3A state semifinal at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
“I can’t even really tell you how much Kenna has meant since she got back,” Fallon coach Anne Smith said. “We lost her last year. You would think that losing a year would kind of put you behind but she does not even look like she’s lost a step.”
Two summers ago, Hamlin was on a fast break in a scrimmage against Fernley, went to shoot, kicked the ball and was pushed, landing awkwardly on her right knee as she heard a displeasing pop. She tried to tough it out with icing for several weeks but she could no longer walk. Hamlin needed surgery to replace her ACL in November 2017, followed by two months of physical therapy, which was originally scheduled for six.
“When I injured it, right away being a soccer player, I know an ACL injury is very common,” Hamlin said. “I knew that it was my ACL but I didn’t want to come to terms with it because I knew it would be a long period out. I just tried to wrap it and ice it. I couldn’t even practice. My knee would give out walking.”
After her surgery, Hamlin came to as many practices as she could during the basketball season. She sat on the bench next to her team and coaches, watching another state championship season unfold. It was not a feeling Hamlin wanted to experience again.
“That was honestly one of the hardest things to do was to just sit there and not be there (on the court),” she said. “I felt like sitting at home would have been worse. It was hard to sit through every practice and every game. I had to remind myself that I was going to come back stronger next year.”
And Hamlin’s presence alone on the court has helped ease the team’s transition after losing five seniors last year. She’s available to score when the team needs her to but Smith has enjoyed watching her defense cause headaches for the opposing 3A teams. Smith likens her to ex-Wave point guard Zoey Swisher, who was the only senior starter in Fallon’s state title win in Las Vegas two years ago.
“Defensively, how many steals and deflections does she get?” Smith said of her senior guard, who’s second on the team in steals with 91. “Offensively, she runs the play. She’s the quarterback. She initiates the offense. She does so much else on the floor and that’s OK. She is a 3-point shooter. I’m happy to have her. She’s just filled an important role. She’s just a leader. I’ve noticed that she’s the one who kind of helps the new people. She’s the one who explains and mentors. Absolutely, I’m fantastic to have her back.”
And Hamlin was happy to be back. But more importantly, she was happy to be with the team last season, which has helped her not miss a step this year.
“I knew coming back what I needed to do after my injury,” said Hamlin, who was also named the Homecoming queen in the fall. “I knew what to expect competitive-wise and what I needed to do. I worked hard to be here. It was hard physically and emotionally to do that.”
She wanted to be back on the court so bad that even running for punishment was attractive.
“When stepping on the court again, you can’t really describe the feeling. You’re happy to be there,” Hamlin said. “You missed being there. It was just nice. I remember just missing running or having a punishment, like running laps. When I go to practice or a game, I’m excited. I don’t take any of it for granted because I know what it’s like.”
And she also has her family, in particular, her mother, Stephanie, for pushing her to get back on the court.
“Family is important and so were my coaches. I was sad for a long time,” Hamlin added. “My parents were there and kept pushing me. I remember my mom when I was crying. She would be like you will come back stronger and rally. That just stuck in my head a lot. I knew I had to come back and be better than I was the year before.”