De Pere’s Ciesielczyk thriving after injury return
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – In early Oct. 2019, De Pere’s McKenna Ciesielczyk was doing a basketball drill and felt a pop in her left knee.
“I was cutting, and my body went one way, and my knee stayed put,” said Ciesielczyk, a 5-foot-8 junior guard for the Redbirds. “It didn’t hurt too badly at the time, so I was hoping it wasn’t an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) or an MCL (medial collateral ligament) injury,” she said. “After a couple of days, I went into the doctor and he confirmed it wasn’t a ligament injury. I began rehabbing to see if the inflammation and pain would decrease, but it wasn’t working.”
McKenna, the daughter of Jodi and Matt Ciesielczyk, said she then went to see Dr. Patrick McKenzie at Bellin for another evaluation.
“During this time, practices at De Pere had already started, but I hadn’t been taking part,” she said. “Dr. McKenzie said it was an injury with my plica. I had never heard of it, so I had to look it up.”
The plica, which lets you bend and move your leg easier, is a fold in the thin tissue lining the knee joint.
“When my knee planted, I irritated and stretched my plica,” said Ciesielczyk. “With this injury, I needed surgery – that was devastating. It was my sophomore year, and I was excited to play varsity basketball. The surgery took place in early November (2019).”
McKenzie told Ciesielczyk it would take six months before she was full strength again, but true to her work ethic, she was able to cut two months off that time frame.
“Because it wasn’t a structural knee injury, I was able to walk on it two or three weeks after the surgery,” she said. “All of my main ligaments and tendons were solid. It was lots of hard work from there rehabbing at Bellin. By the time I was cleared to begin practice again, our season was almost over.”
Ciesielczyk played in a few games at the end of last season, but the coaching staff didn’t want to throw her back into big minutes with the season nearly done.
“It’s a testament to how hard McKenna worked during the process,” said De Pere head coach Jeremy Boileau. “She’s a great young lady and has kept a positive attitude. When you lose a season to injury, especially in high school, that’s hard to accept. She’s been a good role model for other athletes coming back from injury.”
De Pere is off to a 10-1 start and ranked No. 5 in the latest Wissports.net Division 1 state poll.
“It’s exciting how things are going,” Ciesielczyk said. “We’re a young team, so we’re hoping to make a deep run in the playoffs. I love playing for Coach Boileau – he’s extremely dedicated and puts lots of time in. He’s supportive, and I trust the way he runs things. Practices are energetic and fun, and I’ve always felt in good hands with him.”
Ciesielczyk’s dad is also an assistant coach with the team.
“We try to keep the father and coach part separate,” she said. “Most of the time, he’s strictly my coach on the floor, but I do like having him on the staff – it’s fun.”
Boileau said Ciesielczyk is “rock-solid” when it comes to playing defense and getting her teammates involved, but he’s also looking for her to take some scoring pressure off junior Jordan Meulemans, a Division I recruit currently averaging about 22 points per game for the Redbirds.
“I think as time goes on, McKenna will get into a better groove with scoring,” said Boileau. “She works so hard on defense, sometimes it’s hard for her to get going on the offensive end.”
Ciesielczyk, currently averaging about eight points per game, erupted for 19 against New London Dec. 21.
“I love playing defense,” she said. “Guarding good offensive players is fun and motivates me. I work hard, so defense is my favorite, but I love to score as well.”
With a varsity roster of 11, De Pere has only two seniors on this year’s squad, so the future is looking bright for the Redbirds.
“We’re not only excited for this season but next year as well,” said Ciesielczyk. “We have a young team, and the future looks good.”
With a good sample of games under her belt, Ciesielczyk said her knee is feeling good.
“I was told to be proactive and keep icing,” she said. “I still have to take care of it, and I do get some soreness, but I haven’t had any problems with it.”
Ciesielczyk said her ultimate goals are to stay healthy and play college basketball.
“It doesn’t matter which division, but I’d love to continue my playing career in college,” she said. “It would be a blessing.”