On March 5 University of Missouri-Kansas City junior Taylor Larson stood on a ladder underneath a basket holding a clipped-off piece of the net in celebration at the Swinney Center in Kansas City.
Kansas City had just defeated Utah Valley, 61-53, to clinch the Western Athletic Conference regular-season championship.
“Getting to experience making history by winning the WAC conference with my teammates and all of our hard work paying off was one of the best feelings,” Larson said. “I had never had an experience of cutting down nets. It was definitely something I will never forget.”
The win earned Kansas City the top seed in the WAC tournament. The Roos whipped Chicago State, 86-52, in the first round, but with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic underway the conference decided to cancel the rest of the tournament.
Being that they were the top seed in the conference, the Roos were given conference’s the automatic NCAA tournament bid. It would’ve been the first in school history.
But shortly after the WAC called off its tournament the NCAA made the decision to cancel all remaining tournaments and end the basketball season.
“We were planning on playing in the school’s first ever NCAA tournament-men’s or women’s,” Kansas City head coach Jacie Hoyt said. “We worked incredibly hard all season to get that opportunity, so to have it taken away was very hard on all of us.”
It was a tough pill for Larson to swallow. But she understood why it had to be done.
“Considering these circumstances this is a very serious matter we are facing,” Larson said. “It all comes down to having the right mindset.”
Larson has plenty of experience dealing with and overcoming adversity. During the summer before her senior year in high school at Ballard she tore her ACL.
The injury robbed Larson of the chance to finish her final year of summer ball competition with All Iowa Attack. She also had to miss the first 10 games of her senior season at Ballard.
“I was at home icing when my mom called me with the news that I had torn it,” Larson said. “I remember feeling stunned and sort of in disbelief.”
But Larson didn’t stay down for long. She went right to work rehabbing her leg to give herself a chance at getting back on the court in her final year as a Bomber.
“I wanted to do anything I could to get to play on the Ballard court one more time with my
teammates and in front of my community,” Larson said. “The standard timeline for an ACL recovery for a full contact sport is around six months. It was my goal to get back as quickly as I could but I had to make sure I followed my doctors protocol. I was fortunate enough to be released right at my six-month mark.”
It helped that Larson had two parents — Aaron and Nicole — who had each dealt with an ACL injury and knew what needed to be done to heal properly.
“My mom took me to all my physical therapy appointments and never let me take the easy way out,” Larson said. “My dad always would remind me of the bigger picture and the goals I had set for myself.”
Larson was able to make it back onto the court after Christmas her senior year. She played in 12 games, averaging 8.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.0 steals and nearly three assists per game.
“I think my eagerness to get back on the court overpowered my fear of being injured,” Larson said. “Once I stepped back on the court I just felt ready to go.”
Larson’s efforts helped Ballard go 16-6 and win the Raccoon River Conference for the fourth year in a row. She was named to the all-RRC first team.
“You don’t come back from an ACL unless you have the right frame of mind,” Ballard head coach Kelly Anderson said. “It’s a tough situation and Taylor worked very hard to come back from it.”
During the fall of her senior year at Ballard Larson signed to play Division 1 women’s basketball at Kansas City. She has been a valuable role player for the Roos in her three years with the program, averaging 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 points this past season.
“Her commitment has never been questioned, and she always does what you ask of her,” Hoyt said. “Her trust in us has meant a lot to me, and it’s been so rewarding to watch her trust and commitment pay off for herself and our team.”
The great success Kansas City had this past season going 21-10 and winning the WAC title was a nice payoff for all the work Larson did coming back from her injury. It also serves as great motivation for other athletes to stick with it, including her younger sister Maggie.
Maggie just completed her senior season of basketball at Ballard having helped the Bombers reach state for the first time since the 2015-2016 season. Like her sister and parents, Maggie has been bitten by the injury bug — suffering a meniscus tear as a freshman and an ACL tear during her junior year.
The ACL injury forced Maggie to miss the last part of basketball season as a junior. But she was able to recover fast enough to be a valuable contributor for the Bomber softball team — hitting .387 with six home runs and 35 RBIs.
“Her mental toughness and strength helped push me through my recovery,” Maggie said. “Her story gave me inspiration to fight through adversity and come back on top.”
After she graduates Kansas City Larson said she plans on joining Nicole as a real estate agent. But right now Larson just wants the COVID-19 situation to die down enough so she can get back on the basketball court for her senior year.
“Since our season got cut short when we were playing our best basketball it has our whole team hungry to get after it,” Larson said. “We are excited to face new competition next year as we transition into the Summit League this fall.”