KSU to honor seniors in final home game

By Joshua Kinder

There is no All-American. No All-Big 12 selection and no 1,000-point scorer in this group.

It’s fair to say none of the Kansas State women’s basketball team’s three seniors are considered household names.

But the contributions of Chantay Caron, Katya Leick and Ashlynn Knoll go beyond numbers and their limited career starts for the Wildcats, who will honor the senior trio tonight at 7 when they host TCU in the final regular season game at Bramlage Coliseum.

Caron is a four-year Wildcat with as many battle scars as a prizefighter — seemingly held together by duct tape these days — and always willing to take the difficult assignment, no matter the size or the challenge.

The other two are transfers who had their Wildcat careers shortened by devastating injuries.

Leick left a bad situation at Nebraska, only to sit here for two years — one after transferring and one with a torn ACL — before even getting to suit up for K-State. Knoll, a former junior college transfer, lost most of her first season with a knee injury, but has turned it on of late to finish her senior season on a scoring binge.

On a K-State (11-17, 5-11 Big 12) team that featured eight first- or second-year players, a common theme for these three seniors has been their willingness to help others, K-State coach Deb Patterson said.

“That’s what I’ll remember most about this group — they’re sensitized to the needs and the thoughts and the emotions of other people,” she said.

On the court, while none of these seniors have been prolific scorers, they’ve still managed to lead by example, often doing those little things that aren’t always visible in a box score. Sometimes it’s a matter of grabbing a key rebound, making that tough inbounds pass or setting the right screen. Sometimes, it comes down to accepting a challenge in the face of adversity.

If anybody understands that its Caron, who was one of only seven healthy Wildcats in the final 19 games last season.

At 5-feet-11 and the biggest healthy player that remained, it often meant the Lawrence native drew the assignment of playing in the post.

“She was a rock last year,” Patterson said. “We had to have her last season. She did whatever it took and I think it took a lot out of her and was hard on her body — the back, the hip, the knees. She’s a beat up warrior.

“Chantay has always had that warrior mentality. She’s always been willing to go in and do anything you ask of her, play the mismatch, rebound, make the next in-and-out pass, never a great offensive power, but a player who has made some big shots just when you needed them.”

Caron showed that again last week, playing her final game in her hometown, when the Wildcats traveled to Lawrence to face the rival Jayhawks. Limited this season due to bad knees — needing multiple layers of wraps and knee pads to play — Caron scored 10 points to help the Wildcats to a 76-68 win over Kansas, her only game in double figures this season.

“If you really love this game, you don’t want to go out losing by 40,” said Caron, who has played in 124 games, including 53 starts in four years. “That’s not something you want to do. You try as hard as you can to win that game because you’re playing you’re last minutes there.”

K-State has just five Big 12 wins this season and sits in a tie for ninth in the league, ahead of only Texas Tech. And though it’s not the season the Wildcats wanted, they wouldn’t even have the five wins without Leick, who supplied her two best performances of the season in K-State’s two signature victories over Iowa State and Oklahoma.

The 6-1 forward from Grey Cloud Township, Minn., has scored in double figures six times this season, including 22 points against Oklahoma on Jan. 29 and a career-high 23 points in the Wildcats’ win over the Cyclones on Jan. 18.

“She’s in that group that understands everyday what it takes and how hard to work and the intensity it takes — has a big heart,” Patterson said. “She’s a kid who saw her career here reduced to one year, instead of two, but what a huge piece to our puzzle she’s been this year in terms of heart, energy, spirit and work ethic.”

Knoll has also felt a sense of urgency with her career winding down. The Canyon, Texas, native and Seward County transfer played in 17 games last season before going down with an ACL tear.

Healthy this year, Knoll has found her way into the starting lineup five times. A role player most of the season, though, the 5-11 forward averaged just 3.5 points a game in her first 21 contests, scoring 74 total points. But in the last three games, few players in the Big 12 have been better than Knoll.

Knoll scored 13 points in a start against West Virginia on Feb. 22, followed by 12 points off the bench at Kansas and then a career-high 19 points and eight rebounds this past Saturday at Oklahoma State — also off the bench.

“You start realizing that you’re never going to have basketball back and its never going to be like this again, so I’ve tried to take it all in and fight as hard as I can and play the best that I ever have to prove that I can,” said Knoll, who is averaging nearly 15 points a game during the three-game stretch. “I want to go out with a bang. I guess it’s saving it for the end, but it’s a mindset because you don’t want it to end.”

It’s also Knoll’s last chance to leave a lasting impression with what is the youngest K-State roster since the 1978 season, a group that features the Wildcats’ leader in scoring, rebounding and assists in Leti Romero.

“They need leaders and they need to know what its like to battle and to win,” Knoll said. “The freshmen are an amazing group and I love every single one of them. They’re awesome to play with and to have in the locker room as teammates — they’re going to do great things by the time they’re seniors.

“But its important for us to finish strong for them, to show them what its like to go after something. This season hasn’t been roses and fairies by any means, but a strong finish can motivate them for summer workouts and the offseason.”

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