By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – It took almost a full year, but Claire Bjorge is back doing what she loves — playing basketball.
After tearing the ACL in her right knee on July 21 of last year, the De Pere High School girls’ basketball senior recently took part in her first game action in almost a year at a summer league game on June 12.
“I thought I’d be a lot more scared to play, but I trust the knee – it’s going great,” she said. “I figured I’d be timid and not as aggressive, but I seem to be more aggressive now — it’s a little weird.”
Bjorge said she’ll never forget that fateful day when she tore her ACL.
“I was in Minneapolis at an AAU tournament when it happened,” Bjorge, who missed all of her junior season at De Pere, said. “I drove into the lane and did a Euro step into a jump stop — my knee buckled and gave out.”
Initially, Bjorge said the trainer onsite didn’t think it was anything serious.
“I was hoping for the best,” she said. “I saw someone the next day, and that trainer thought it was a hamstring tear and I’d be out for a week. After that, I was warming up for another game, and it gave out again when I changed directions.”
Bjorge said upon returning home, she received the bad news via an MRI.
“I was told it was a full tear of the ACL and a partial tear of the MCL,” she said. “It wasn’t a hamstring issue. It was hard to soak it in and accept it. Luckily, everyone around me was super supportive.”
Missing her junior season
Bjorge burst onto the high school basketball scene as a freshman for the Redbirds, where she averaged 10.7 points per game.
During De Pere’s state run during her sophomore campaign, Bjorge pumped in 15.7 points per outing.
“It was hard knowing I’d have to sit out my entire junior year,” she said. “I couldn’t do much for about six weeks (after the surgery), but then I slowly started lifting weights and rehabbing. (The rehab) got more intense as the days went on. I followed my Bellin program and did that to the best of my ability.”
Once the season started, Bjorge said it was even harder to watch her teammates play.
“When practice started, all I could do was cheer for them,” she said. “Late in the season, I participated more — did some free throws and non-contact things. Once I started improving, I thought maybe I could squeeze in playing (a game), but it just wasn’t smart – I wasn’t ready at all. I had no intention of playing as the season wound down.”
Bjorge said she began practicing with her AAU team, the Purple Aces, in April.
“I still couldn’t do 5-on-5 stuff, but I slowly progressed from 1-on-1 to 5-on-5 as time went along,” she said. “It was going well, but I didn’t play in an early season scrimmage in Minneapolis – just to be safe.”
Bjorge said she plans to continue with her AAU team and keep getting stronger.
“Before I tore my ACL, I didn’t think lifting was that important,” she said. “After the injury, it’s changed my mindset on that. My dad harps on me to lift, and now I realize how important it is to keep things strong. I stretch before games better, too.”
Bjorge said she’s “very much looking forward to her senior season.”
“I can’t wait — our team is looking really good,” she said.
Bjorge said before her injury, her recruiting process was ramping up.
“Recruiting took a pause after the injury,” she said. “It scares you because you don’t know what coaches are going to think or if they will completely ghost you. Most of them who were recruiting me before the injury have been positive and understanding – it’s been good to get back into the recruiting part. I hope to commit before August.”
Bjorge has Division I offers from Evansville and North Dakota and Division II offers from Maryville and Minnesota-Duluth.
“I used to think I wanted to go to a bigger school, but I don’t care as much anymore about what division it is — I just want what’s best for me and my future,” she said.