Kennedi Orr hitting over a block in a 2019 match at Lakeville South (Star Tribune photo: Jeff Wheeler)
At first, Eagan setter Kennedi Orr didn’t think her injury was that serious.
Almost three weeks before the Minnesota State High School League reversed course and reinstated a fall volleyball season, Orr, the state’s consensus top senior volleyball player and 2019 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, tweaked her left knee when she tried to change directions while playing in a fall league sponsored by her volleyball club, Northern Lights.
At least, she thought it was just a tweak.
“I had hurt my right knee before and I’ve always been able to handle that,” she said. “I thought I’d be out a week and come back.”
This time, however, it lingered. Orr said felt there might be a little more to the injury when she had trouble getting up. A trip to her doctor resulted in a prognosis of a mild MCL sprain. Two weeks of rest was prescribed.
When she still had difficulty bending it two weeks later, she returned to the doctor, who mentioned an MRI might be necessary. When the results arrived a few days later, they were worse than she feared: A torn ACL, a sprained MCL and a partially torn meniscus.
This was bad.
Her high school coach, Kathy Gillen, relayed the news. “I cried,” Orr said. “Then I got right back into the swing of things and tried to stay positive.”
Before she suffered the injury, Orr -- an athletic, versatile player who can dominate as a setter and a hitter – was going about her business, thinking her high school career was over. She’d committed to Nebraska, a perennial national powerhouse, after her sophomore year. She had planned to graduate early, head to Lincoln and get a jump on her college career.
She signed her national letter of intent Wednesday before a small gathering at the high school.
When the season was originally canceled, she reasoned her time as an Eagan Wildcat was over.
The season's revival led her to change her plans and she looked forward to a final go-round with the team. But this was new. Her last chance to play for her high school was snatched away by the first significant physical damage she’d ever experienced.
A veteran of numerous U.S. National Junior teams, Orr has a well-deserved reputation as a heady competitor -- never flustered, a calm hand on the rudder.
She took some time to process the news, rejected the urge to sulk, and applied her valuable volleyball traits to her rehabilitation, creating what she calls “a vision board.”
“Something to help me stay positive,” she said. “I just needed a little time to get myself in the right head space to do [physical therapy] for the next eight months.”
There is a bright side to Orr’s senior season setback. She’s spent her time in the Wildcats’ practices and on the bench, next to Gillen, during games.
“I’ve learned a lot and I see the game totally differently,” she said. “I’m getting a different perspective on the game and I think it’s been good for me. Gillen will look at me sometimes and say ‘Get your coach's goggles on,’ and show me things I never would have seen before.”
It’s a testament to the program Guillen has built at Eagan that even without Orr, the Wildcats are still among a few teams considered among the state’s best. They’re 7-1 on the season and ranked No. 2 in Class 3A despite having two matches canceled last week due to COVID-19 concerns.
Orr, ever the humble leader, said she had no doubt that her team would be successful without her. “We would have been good either way,” she said. “We have a lot of great players. By no means was this team just about me.”
She's still adjusting to things. Crutches, for one. And getting up and down stairs.She's also been taken aback by the outpouring of support she’s received. Her family has willingly picked up the slack since she went down. Older sister Brie, a setter at the University of Iowa, came home to be with her when she underwent surgery.
“It’s getting easier every day,” she said. “People have been so supportive. I haven’t had to open a door by myself for a long time and that’s really sweet. I’m grateful to so many people wanting to help me.”