By Benjamin Wideman, Director of Communications & Sports Information
Kaela Cheesman could have called it quits after tearing her right ACL as a senior on the Rolla (Mo.) High School girls’ basketball team.
And she could have hung up her sneakers for good after tearing her left ACL last year as a sophomore at Silver Lake College.
But anyone who knows Kaela — like her mother, Renee — knows that’s just not her style.
“She’s a tough girl and doesn’t have any quit in her, whether it’s in sports or in academics,” said Renee, a registered nurse who works in Rolla as a regional vice president for a home health care business. “Injuries just aren’t something that will hold Kaela down. She’s a fighter.”
Cheesman and her SLC teammates are glad she stuck with basketball.
Thanks in part to the junior guard’s stellar three-point shooting, the Lakers recently concluded one of their best seasons ever, finishing with a 23-7 record and nine straight victories to end the year.
“Having two serious knee injuries like Kaela had, I really give her a lot of credit for not giving up,” Lakers head coach Mike Flentje said. “A lot of girls probably would’ve called it quits. But she has persistence and heart and desire, and she worked hard to come back and be a productive player.
“Her three-point shooting has been absolutely huge for us. In college, you have to have three-point shooters or you’re not going to be successful. And Kaela is a big three-point threat.”
Cheesman finished the season No. 1 in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association in three-point field goals made (84), and her 10.7 points per game ranked second on the team. She had 16 more three-pointers than anyone else in the USCAA.
“I’m excited,” she said about leading the USCAA, “because three-pointers are my main game. I have a lot more confidence this year.”
“When she has a hot night, she can really knock down the threes and stretch out the defense,” junior forward/center Raelyn Woock said. “She’s a really good shooter.”
Cheesman said she never considered quitting after the ACL tears.
“I just tried to be really tough mentally,” she said. “I kept telling myself, ‘I’ve got to play.’ I just can’t picture myself not playing. I definitely have a passion and love for the game, and I don’t see that going away anytime soon.”
In her younger years, Cheesman played several sports, including soccer, softball, track, volleyball and field hockey, but basketball is her favorite. She helps coach basketball in Rolla when Silver Lake College isn’t in session.
“People told me I was too little to play,” said Cheesman, who stands 5-foot-2, “and I’ve always wanted to prove them wrong.”
Cheesman said family support has been crucial to her over the years. Her parents, Andy and Renee, managed a traveling AAU program in which she participated. And when Cheesman suffered her first torn ACL, she could rely on her mother for guidance not only because of her medical background but also the fact she tore an ACL while playing basketball in eighth grade.
“With the injuries she has sustained and the challenges she’s faced and with being so far away from home, her faith in the Lord keeps her strong,” Andy said of his daughter.
“We believe in God, family and basketball, in that order,” Renee added. “Her dad and I are both very proud of her.”