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The Comeback Kid

RIVER FALLS - If you wanted something bad enough, would you go through pain to get it?

Jana Benitz loves to play collegiate basketball. She loves playing for UW-River Falls and playing in the WIAC.

"It's not like playing in a rec. league or playing at the 'Y' obviously," Benitz said. "There's just something about the camaraderie with your teammates, playing against great competition and the nervous energy you get before each game. There's nothing like it."

It's so special to Benitz that she was willing to play through the pain in her right knee throughout her junior year just to stay on the UWRF squad. Pain so bad that it forced her out of the Falcons' playing rotation and away from the team for much of last season.

But successful surgery helped Jana get back on the court for her senior season, pain free and full of persistence to see her love of basketball play through to the end.

A screw's loose.

After ACL surgery to her knee between her sophomore and junior years, knew there was something wrong when she began practicing for her junior season in 2006.

"It turns out one of the screws inserted during the surgery to hold together my ligament got loose and started to irritate the muscle," Benitz said. "Nobody knew that at the time. The training staff and doctors thought it was tendonitis. I played through it the best I could but it was pretty painful."

Benitz only saw time in three games her junior season, all in November. She practiced with the team, but could do little else. Eventually by January she couldn't even do that.

"We were alternating between resting it and rehabbing it," Benitz said. "Nothing really worked "

That was the physical part of Benitz's problems. The emotional side was painful just as painful.

"I was dealing with pain, dealing with not knowing what was wrong with me," Benitz said, "dealing with being away from the sport I love and my teammates. It was frustrating to say the least."

Benitz admits for a day or two she may have questioned why even go on, but no more than that. Her head coach, Cindy Hovet, think she knows why.

"Jana's a fighter pure and simple," Hovet said "She's tough and persistent on the court so why would she be any different off? I'm happy every day she decided to stick with it."

Support units

If Benitz was going to play again she needed to have surgery. The question was whether it was worth it by this point.

"I think what cinched it for me was the reaction of my family, Benitz said "They've been behind me and done so much for me since I started playing basketball that I've never wanted to let them down. But my parents (Jana is the daughter of Jim and Pam Benitz of Maiden Rock) told me no matter what I did I would have their support and love. All of this was just as tough for them to go through. I wanted to do what I could to get back on the court."

The surgery last May eventually found the loose screw and removed it. Since then it was just a matter of building strength in the knee and regaining her motion.

"Once I played on it in a summer league I knew I was coming back," Benitz said. "It felt great. I hadn't felt that way about my knee since I was a freshman and it just motivated me to go through rehab, work out and keep playing on it so I could play my senior season. I still have to deal with tendonitis issues now and then but it's nothing serious."

That fall Coach Hovet got a welcome surprise and welcome addition to what was going to be a very young ball club.

"Honestly I wasn't sure if she was coming back or not," Hovet said. "We have a great training staff here at UWRF and I usually defer to them and their judgment and expertise on injuries. I never want a player to play with something that could affect her health 10 years down the road. But she rehabbed the knee like mad during the off season and she was there on the court when we began practice."

The Falcons have struggled, just 6-13 overall and 0-10 in the WIAC with their young squad. But Benitz, a 5-7 guard, is fifth on the team in scoring averaging seven points per contest. She's also averaging 2.8 rebounds per game, has 35 steals and 45 assists.

"She's a great example to our young players," Hovet said. "She personifies toughness and determination and she's stepped up and played some of her best basketball."

Benitz best game so far was a 19 point effort against UW-Stout back on Dec. 5

Benitz's final home game will be against UW-Oshkosh on Feb. 16 at the Karges Center and she'll look back knowing what she's been through was worth it just so she could play collegiate basketball.

"You have to appreciate the moment because it doesn't last forever," Benitz said. "I've always wanted to play collegiate basketball and when I reached that goal I so fell in love with it that I didn't want anything to keep me from playing. This season is all about not having any regrets and I'll leave with none."

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