Kendall Schaffner overcomes great odds to compete again on the volleyball court

In July 2021 Kendall Schaffner learned that her knee was going to have to be completely reconstructed. She had missed the 2019 season with a knee injury and after playing as a sophomore in 2020 and being selected All-Conference and All-State, she was devastated with the news.

WHEATLAND – Wheatland High School senior leader Kendall Schaffner accomplished what most would have given up on long ago.

She overcame two major surgeries and lost a complete volleyball season, not once, but twice in her high school career. Through the adversity, she was seen this year standing with her teammates holding a trophy that crowned them the third best volleyball team in the state competing in 3A competition.

As the dust cleared at the Wyoming girls 3A volleyball championship she not only held the 3A third place trophy, but was also named to the 3A Southeast All-Conference team, earned All-State honors and was chosen as the Wyoming 3A player of the year.

She missed two seasons of competition due to an initial knee reconstruction and another two years later. In the two years she was on the court, she was All-State twice, All-conference twice, Player of the year once and in just two years she shattered five season records including digs per match at 16.8, digs per season – 623, digs for a career – 1,097, serve receive percentage per match – 95.4% and Serve receive percentage for a season – 95.4%.

Not only did she break school records in two years’ time, she did it with a broken and repaired body.

When Kendall Schaffner who injured herself while playing volleyball freshman year, she became an example of an athlete who had a will of iron to rehabilitate and get back to the sport that she loved. Not only did she get back to the court, but led her team back to the state tournament in 2020. The Wheatland bulldogs hadn’t been to state in nine years.

From lying in surgical ward to working feverishly in the process of rehab and healing, she not only led her team back to the state tournament, but also amassed 46 digs, hit 94% of her serves, produced 11 kills with her thundering spike and had a 98% on serve receive. For those impressive totals she was awarded All-State honors in 2020.

“I began playing volleyball in the third grade,” she said. “But I’ve been in the gym like, forever.”

In going back to recall the moments of the injury, Schaffner had incredible recollection. It would be her very first high school game, playing varsity as a freshman.

“It was the first game of the season last year,” she said. “I got on the bus and it was all good. In the game, it was the first spike of the game and I came down wrong and hurt my knee.”

Another recollection that was very clear came from Kendall’s mom, Lindsay Schaffner who was not just a parent in the stands, but was at that time, the varsity head volleyball coach on the sidelines.

“We were up, 6 to 4, I believe it was and Ken went up to take a swing,” Schaffner said. “As a freshman we started that whole crew as freshmen as well.  She was super excited. I remember that morning being really excited as a mom of a freshman that’s going to start here with her first varsity match. She went up and the set was on the other side of her body and she twisted and came down and it was just a freak fall as she landed on her left knee.”

The awkward angle that ensued was described as gruesome and a moment that was recorded on film, but she says that they try to avoid watching it.

“I can still picture her face,” Lindsay said. “Looking at me when she fell and she grabbed her knee and she said ‘it hurts, it hurts,’ and I can still picture that part of it. Just knowing as a mom and coach, the amount of work that she put into her craft; that was hard. Out indefinitely and not knowing what was going on. She brings a sense of confidence to the girls like this year, that they didn’t have last year.”

“I tore my ACL and meniscus,” Kendall said. “I had to have an ACL repair, so they drilled a hole in my femur which was still attached to the tibia, and then they shoved the ACL into the hole in the femur and tied it off.”

Lindsay said that the type of surgery was done was not a full reconstruction due to her age. The decision to do the surgery in this manner was determined by the Orthopedic of the Rockies in Fort Collins.

“Her growth plates were still open,” Schaffner said. “And so he said with them being as open as they were, this was the best route. This was a permanent solution. At first the trainer said it wasn’t torn and we’ve had several other trainers tell us the same thing. She actually went to therapy and played on it.”

After being misdiagnosed, initially and before their trip to the orthopedic specialist, she actually played one more game on the injured knee and went down again. With an ACL tear, the pain wasn’t enough to deter her from playing, but after one set she attempted a serve and came down in a heap once again.

After a phone call from the doctor a few days after the MRI was done, they got the phone call and the bad news.

“We brought Kendall in and the whole team and kinda told them,” She said. “There were a lot of tears from the whole team. It was hard. We lost her for the rest of the season.”

Kendall went under the knife at the end of October 2019 and went through a surgery that was under two hours. She then faced the long road of rehabilitation and watching her spot on the court occupied by another athlete.

She is not an athlete that has been made to feel sorry for herself, but during her rehabilitation she decided to go through another open door, follow in her mom’s footprints and took on the role of a student coach.

“There were times when she would say, ‘mom are you seeing the whole in rotation one, should we focus on this,’ so I would acknowledge the coaching point and make the adjustment,” Lindsay said.

It was a six-month rehab for Kendall before she was cleared to play again and she worked hard to make sure she would come back even stronger. Not one moment, she said was dedicated to the negative and not once did she ever feel that her career was over.

From that point, she would not just work on technique like other players. She had to go above and beyond for hours of rehab and hours of patience as she healed.

Schaffner is an athlete with not a lot of extreme highs or extreme lows. She has a quiet confidence that surrounds her and she keeps a level head through the thick and thin of recovery, practice and big games.

Those watching wonder at times what the pep talk inside their heads must be like.

“I just tell myself that I’ve been working for this game since forever,” she said.

To lose a game to injury in sports can be devastating to the student athlete, the parents and the coaches. To lose a year from your sport is heartbreaking, but to face that kind of pain a second time is beyond comprehension.

Kendall Schaffner beginning her junior year had to cross that bridge of adversity a second time in three years.

A second injury to the same area can be career-ending or it can be character building. It can be destructive or it can be opportunistic to build and strengthen other areas.

There are few young athletes who have it happen twice, and few have the mental toughness to get past the “what-ifs” in their training regimen during the comeback. Schaffner, though has been cut from a cloak of armor and although disappointed, nothing stopped her from another comeback.

After a year of rehabilitation followed by a year of great victory both for the team and individually, Schaffner was looking forward to her junior year with great anticipation.

That anticipation was gone in a moment. On the WHS track during the offseason and a tedious training session.

“On July 7 I was sprinting and I just felt it pull,” Kendall said. “I didn’t think it was bad and then I got an MRI the next day and I found out I had retorn the ACL. Even after I hear the news, I was pretty confident that I was going to play on it this year, but when we saw the surgeon, he said if I tried to play, I could permanently damage my knee.”

As she recalled that appointment, tears came into her eyes as she recalled the crushing news.

“I think this year as I recover, I can still help the team with the defense a lot,” Kendall said realizing that instructing wouldn’t have been her first choice. “And just being another coach, I guess. It will be pretty tough but I did it before, so I can do it again.”

As a parent, there is something sickening in the stomach when they have to watch a sick or recovering child.

“To say this has been a trying time would be an understatement,” Lindsay said in 2021. “I know without a doubt Ken will put in the work to come back stronger than ever this spring when we start up the AAU season. As a mom it’s heart breaking to see your kid go through something like this twice. To see her put her heart and soul into a sport she loves and then to have it taken away is tough. As a coach it’s tough losing your all-state player, team captain and one of your leaders. She is a huge reason why Wheatland VB is headed in the right direction.”

As this year came to a close and Kendall was coming off one of the best seasons in her life, she can’t help remember the two worst seasons of her life.

“This was a really good season,” she said. “I really enjoyed playing with my teammates. We’ve had a really good connection all six years that we’ve played together. It was the cherry on top of the sundae to play with them this last year.”

Most of the senior team had been together since seventh grade and their communication was evident on the court.

“We all had a really good connection and it was really easy for me to play with them and it’s like I knew where they were going to be at all times,” she said.

Schaffner was a dual threat on the team not only being able to be a pinpoint setter when needed, but what was most impressive was her ability to set raging spikes to the seams making it difficult for the opposing diggers to be able to control their shots.

“That just came from a lot of practice and hard work,” she said. “I know that the team depends upon me a lot to put the ball away in hard situations or when the game is close or if we are down and Grace (Battershell), for one knows that I will score when we need to score, so she has a lot of trust in me and not just her, but they all trust me really great so… yeah.”

Schaffner said that she learned a lot in the years she had to watch rather than participate.

“I had to sit out for two years so that was hard, but gained a lot of other experience that way,” she said. “I learned how to lead from a different role off the court.”

The second time Schaffner had problems the surgeon said that she could have played, but it would have caused her severe problems by the time she was 30, so she opted for a full reconstruction. She had the full reconstruction surgery Aug. 6, 2021.

“It was a full reconstruction,” she said. “The doctor used my patella tendon from my right knee and used that to fix my left knee, which is common surgery, which he does all the time.”

For Schaffner, it was a return for her and for the team to the state tournament this year. Although they lost in the first game they played against the fourth seed, Worland, they never lost another match for the state tournament.

“There’s always nerves going into a state tournament game,” she said. “We were a little lacking in experience, but I think the seniors knew that we were fine. It was just really cool to be back there and it was awesome to play at the event center. Also to receive player of the year was great and definitely a goal of mine. I faced a lot of adversity and everyone who supported me, they were a part of that award. My teammates were definitely a big part of that award. It felt good here in this last year.”

Schaffner who worked hard on her rehab and gained great success with her tenacity speaks to those who may be facing injury and facing the temptation to give up.

“You just can’t give up,” she said. “If you want it bad enough and you love it more than anything, you can’t give up. Those were some of the hardest moments of my life, but I drew strength from the testimony of a BYU player who faced something similar. The greatest thing I took away from her testimony and what helped me was when she said, ‘Take one day at a time.’ And that’s what I did. I’ve been playing this game since I was in third-grade and I just made up my mind, I’m never going to quit.”

Schaffner tested her knee to the limit this year and never let up. She said that she didn’t have any problems or pain in the knee, “so that’s a plus,” she said. She has not opted to commit to a college yet, but she is waiting for the right opportunity amid the offers and interest that has already been shown.

In addition to Schaffner who broke five records this past season, Annaliese Matthews broke two school records in blocks for a seaon with 180 and blocks in a career with 180. Lily Nichols broke the school record for blocks in a match with 5.6 and Battershell broke a long-standing assist record with 1944 assists for her career.

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