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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

JOURNAL: Phoenix Rising

Photo by Keifer Russell

On Claire Kaifes’ college career stat sheets, an entire season and then some are blank.

After an ACL tear and an appendectomy, Kaifes sat out all of the 2021-22 season and then part of the 2022-23.

The two injuries have plagued her career so far, but it hasn’t stopped her from putting on the blue and gold jersey and showing up.

After her second season for Marquette women’s basketball, Kaifes played in every game. Despite her momentum, it would come to a halt during postseason workouts. As she was coming down from a layup, her right knee turned and when she landed, that’s when she tore her ACL.

This would take her out for her entire junior season with the full road to recovery taking almost a year.

“My immediate thoughts with that was, ‘Dang, I went through this whole year and nothing bad happened and now we’re only doing these skill workouts and this totally freak thing happened,'” Kaifes said. “Immediately, I knew that it was going to take me out of the whole next year, which was so unfortunate and very sad.”

Right away, Kaifes had people around her for support. Her strength coach Maggie Smith would be the person she would see almost every single day to work on getting better.

Even though Kaifes wasn’t able to go out and help her team on the court, Smith said she approached every day without negativity.

“She was and still is positive all the time,” Smith said. “Claire took things really well, even though it probably hurt in the back of her mind. Maybe it wasn’t the most positive thing all the time, but she never came into training negatively.

“It’s a long, tedious process and I honestly don’t know if there was a day where she said, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ which is unusual for long rehab. Usually, there’s times when you just take a day, do what you got to do and come back tomorrow. She never had any of those days. Honestly, I don’t know if I could have done that.”

Smith said she would have to remind Kaifes to slow down in the process because she pushed her recovery harder with the goal of returning to the court sooner.

Kaifes said commemorating every step of the process made recovery more achievable.

“You’re gonna have bad days, but there will also be really good days,” Kaifes said. “You have to celebrate the little things when you’re dealing with ACL rehab. When I did my first jump. It was not pretty, but we celebrated that. It’s all about going back to the basics and celebrating those little things.”

Her team was behind her with every one of those celebrations.

“I always tried to be there as much as possible to cheer her on,” senior guard Rose Nkumu said. “Making sure that whenever I saw her in passing or was in the gym at the same time as her, I let her know I was witnessing all the hard work she was putting in just to get back. I had to make sure she felt the same love and energy that she gives to this team daily.”

Kaifes said having her teammates around her made the wins so much easier to achieve.

“All my teammates were such a great support team,” Kaifes said. “They would come with me during like certain [recovery] tests, or they would come to the strength room with me every day while on the road when I had to train there. They’d come with me and just having people around me was really nice. They were always a great support.”

Kaifes was back on the court for the following season and played through January in 20 games.

Then, like déjà vu, everything stopped again when Kaifes had a surprise appendectomy in February of 2023. It caused her to miss the remainder of the season.

After the freak accident, Kaifes returned to the court at the beginning of the 2023-24 season for her fifth and final year. She said that for this season, she has learned things off the court to help her on it.

“I used to be able to share what I was seeing before having to sit out during all those injuries, but I wasn’t very vocal about what I saw or what we could get better at,” Kaifes said. “But after, I was able to put into words exactly what I was seeing because I was able to observe off the court. I’ve improved that as I’ve grown and learned from these things.”

Not only did Kaifes see growth in herself, but Nkumu said she brought the team together.

“Every day, she came in with energy to give to us even though she couldn’t step on the court,” Nkumu said. “It’s so easy to lose sight of each other especially when going through recovery and workouts that no one else really sees, but Claire was so aware and so present with us with her usual energy of high fives and celebrations.”

This season, Kaifes played in every single game, which was something she hadn’t done since 2021. She put in an average of 10 minutes on the court per game.

Despite everything that Kaifes has gone through, in other ways, Nkumu said she hasn’t changed.

“I don’t think she’s that much different in the sense that she’s still the same Claire that gives chest bumps, hollers when you make a great play, sacrifices her body to take charges and make big plays,” Nkumu said. “You got to start to see her light shine a little brighter. Getting to be back on the court with us and getting back to the ‘normal’ of being around the girls all the time.”

She finished by sharing how lucky the team is to have Claire.

“We’re really lucky to have someone like Claire on our team and I’m so grateful that I’ve gotten four years to play with her and witness her strength and growth not only as an athlete but as a woman.”

This article was written by Ben Hanson and Dakota Barnes-Rush. Ben can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter/X @benhansonMU. Dakota can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter/X @DakotaRushMU.

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About the Contributors
Benjamin Hanson
Benjamin Hanson, Sports Reporter
Ben Hanson is a sophomore from Minneapolis, Minnesota studying journalism, digital media and advertising. He is a sports reporter and the assistant social media producer for the Marquette Wire for the 2023-2024 school year. When he's not in the newsroom, he likes creative writing, being with friends and going to sporting events. He is excited to be able to spread the word of the Marquette Wire because it has done so much for him while also refining his sports writing.
Dakota Barnes-Rush
Dakota Barnes-Rush, Sports Reporter
Dakota Barnes-Rush is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin but lives in Miami for 9 years. He's majoring in journalism and is a sports reporter for the Marquette Wire. Outside of the Marquette Wire he enjoys watching the NBA, YouTube and hanging out with friends. Dakota is most excited about learning more about each individual sport he covers. He believes the more he knows about the sport the more successful his stories will be.
Keifer Russell
Keifer Russell, Staff Photographer
Keifer Russell is a junior from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin studying digital media and public relations and is a Staff Photographer of the Marquette Wire for the 2023-2024 school year. Outside of the Wire he enjoys rock climbing, photography (figures), as well as finding and listening to new music. He is very excited to further refine his photographic content over the next year

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