Even before head coach Faith Mimnaugh knew the complete severity of the injury to forward Kristina Santiago, she suspected her star would be out a large period of time.
“We feel like she didn’t have the same level of tear she had in high school,” Mimnaugh said at Monday’s press conference. “If it is more along the lines of what we suspect, (she’ll) probably be out for the year.”
After a complete diagnosis of Santiago’s knee, she was right.
An MRI revealed a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in Santiago’s left knee, Santiago said Wednesday. This means the player who averaged a conference-high 19.6 points per game and 8.5 rebounds per game last season will watch the rest of the season — her senior season — from the bench.
“I don’t even know what to think about it,” Santiago said. “I was in shock that it happened again, but everything happens for a reason. Something good is going come out of this.”
It is the second knee injury she has had in her basketball career. At the end of her junior year of high school, she tore the ACL in her right knee, sidelining her for eight months.
Now, nearly five years later, she’s torn the ligament in her other knee. But unlike in high school, Santiago said she will utilize a Medical Hardship Waiver — better known as a medical redshirt — to salvage her Cal Poly career for one more year.
According to NCAA Bylaws, a Medical Hardship Waiver may be granted (1) to a player who is injured in one of their four seasons as a collegiate athlete or a player who was injured subsequent to the first day of classes in their senior year in high school, (2) the injury must occur within the first half of the playing season, and (3) the athlete must not have participated in three contests during the year or 30 percent of the season.
All apply to Santiago.
“It’s pretty clutch, I would say,” Santiago said. “I never really intended to redshirt at all, this is really the first time I have ever thought about it.”
That is because while most players come in and utilize their redshirts as freshman, Santiago didn’t and found instant success on the hardwood.
As a freshman, Santiago scored seven points per game, earning a spot on the Big West All-Freshman Team. As a sophomore, she averaged 15.2 points per game and earned first-team All-Big West honors.
It didn’t stop there. As a junior last year, Santiago was named Big West Player of the Year, after leading the conference in scoring and helping her team to a second place finish in the Big West.
Now with the injury forcing Santiago to redshirt in her senior season, that leaves players like Rachel Clancy, Abby Bloetscher and others to fill in for her scoring and rebounding totals.
The lofty expectations of being picked to finish second in the Big West aren’t out of the picture just yet. Even without Santiago, the Mustangs still have some pieces of the championship puzzle, Mimnaugh said.
“Clancy was a solid leader for us, Abby Bloetscher did a tremendous job on the boards and the team has collectively played well together,” Mimnaugh said.
But this season, the Mustangs are going to have to make their championship run without arguably their best player. Replacing the fourth-leading scorer in program history isn’t an easy task, but Mimnaugh said if there was one team that could, this was it.
For Santiago, it will be a tough journey back, she said, but a swift recovery is something she is willing to work toward — again.
“Anyone who knows me and knows how competitive I am, knows I would give up anything to be on that court right now,” Santiago said. “I will do everything that I have to do to get back.”