For as long as she could remember, there was a problem. Any time Katie Borowicz would be on her legs for a long time, they'd start to tingle. There wasn't a lot of pain, but discomfort. She would always ask her mom, 'What's going on?'"

And when she got to Minneapolis it got worse.

Borowicz is a point guard for the Gophers women's basketball team. She is, almost, a third-year freshman. So, technically, she is part of a group of high-profile freshmen expected to lift the Gophers program.

She has had a wonderful summer. "Tremendous," coach Lindsay Whalen said. "She's a coach's dream. She has no fear. She's built that way. And she speaks her mind which — as a coach, on the floor — is what you want. Last year it was tough without her.''

It was tough on everyone.

A top-100 national recruit by ESPN out of Roseau, Borowicz graduated high school early and joined the Gophers in the middle of the 2020-21 COVID-19 affected season. An interesting move; the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted during the pandemic meant Borowicz could get a half-season in and still have four years of eligibility left.

But, not long after arriving, her symptoms got worse.

"The more activity I did, the more my legs would get tingly numb,'' she said. "Inside it would feel like a whole bunch of sharp needles, and it was from the waist down.''

She played through it. But last summer, during conditioning drills, it was too much. After just a little work, her legs would hurt so badly she couldn't stand.

“I'm so psyched for this season. And not just because I finally get to play basketball again. But because I am so in love with this team. They're amazing. There is no drama. We're all die-hards for each other.”
Katie Borowicz

The testing began. First, an MRI of her legs showed nothing. Then an MRI of her lower spine? Nothing.

Finally, a full-body MRI showed that Borowicz's brain was being pushed out the bottom of her skull.

Surgical cure

It's called Chiari malformation. In Borowicz's case, the problem was her brain was normal sized, but her skull was too small, creating pressure that caused part of the brain to be pushed into the spinal canal. The pressure constricted the nerves, causing the formation of a cyst on her spine. The bottom line was, every time she tried to use her legs there was a problem.

It says a lot about the kind of person Borowicz is that her first reaction was relief. There was a reason why she was struggling.

"My biggest thing is working as hard as I can, making sure other people know that they could trust and rely on me,'' she said. "So when I was getting out of the drills, when I was complaining about my legs, I was going through that time wondering what people thought of me. Whether they thought I was trying to get out of drills, or conditioning. At one point, before I knew what was going on, I was like, 'I hope there is something wrong with me, so people will believe me.' "

After initially thinking she'd try to power through the problem, things got so bad that she decided on surgery.

So, on Nov. 1, she had it: a procedure where they shaved off a part of her skull at the base, cutting through tissue to relieve the pressure and allow fluid to flow more freely.

"And,'' Borowicz said, "they took off half of my top vertebra. With the pressure gone, they hoped the cyst would go away. After we got an MRI, it got smaller. Symptoms have been pretty good. I had a little spurt [this month]. A little tingling. But we're hoping it's a false alarm.''

Borowicz had the worst pain of her life following the surgery. Horrible headaches. She was in the hospital three days and recovered at home three weeks. For three months following the surgery, her symptoms were the same.

But then she turned a corner. By late February she was feeling pretty good. Then, by the time summer came around she felt good.

Borowicz attacked summer workouts with the passion of someone who had their favorite game taken away from them for a year.

"I have way more appreciation for basketball,'' she said. "I feel anyone would say the same thing if they'd had an injury, or surgery. It's hard sitting and watching people play when you feel like you could, or should, be doing the same thing.''

A Roseau legend

Whalen's biggest memory of Borowicz came in the freshman's second game, against Maryland in mid-January 2021. Sent in with 3:28 left in a game and the Gophers trailing by 25, Borowicz had a hand in every Gophers point in a 10-2 run to end the game. First she scored on a layup. Then she hit an NBA-length three. Then she assisted on a basket. Then she hit another three. Eight points, an assist and a steal in 2½ minutes.

Borowicz appeared in 14 games, with one start, a 12-point performance against Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament. She averaged 3.9 points, 2.1 assists and 1.4 rebounds. Her 37.5% shooting from three was best on the team among players with 30 or more attempts.

The 5-7 Borowicz had a prolific career at Roseau. A starter since the seventh grade, she scored more than 2,000 points, leading Roseau to a state title in 2017 and a runner-up finish in 2018. A three-time all-state player, she averaged 31.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 6.2 steals and 6.0 assists as a junior.

Her role with the Gophers set to increase, Borowicz was looking forward to the 2021-22 season. That is, before surgery got in the way.

Now she's ready. "I'm so psyched for this season,'' she said. "And not just because I finally get to play basketball again. But because I am so in love with this team. They're amazing. There is no drama. We're all die-hards for each other."

Eager freshman

There was a lot of drama last year in an up-and-down season that ultimately saw the departure of several players — including starting point guard Jasmine Powell and leading scorer Sara Scalia — via the NCAA transfer portal.

Borowicz saw all the changes, but never considered leaving herself. She said she believed in Whalen and her staff, didn't want to play anywhere else. And she knew a highly ranked recruiting class of Minnesota players was coming in. She knew how good Mara Braun, Nia Holloway, Mallory Heyer and Amaya Battle were.

She has not been disappointed.

"People aren't afraid to make mistakes, then asking for feedback so they can improve,'' Borowicz said. "I feel a lot of people prior were very skilled. But they believed that and didn't seem to have as much desire to learn. This team, they want to learn. They want to be in the gym with their teammates.''

In a highly competitive 3-on-3 tournament run within the team during summer workouts, Borowicz's team edged one led by Braun to take the title. "It was a battle,'' Borowicz said. "We took a few losses to them, too.''

There is a good chance Borowicz and Braun will form the starting backcourt for the Gophers this fall. Borowicz has no scoring goals but wants to be a facilitator. Her main goal on defense is simply to annoy the person she's guarding. Still just 19, she is determined to become a leader on a team she has great expectations for.

"Oh, we're taking dubs this year,'' she said, with dubs meaning wins. "We are ready. That's how we feel. We are going to take people by surprise.''