On Hobbled Feet, MSU Recruit Carries Columbia Falls

By Beacon Staff

COLUMBIA FALLS – In the game of basketball, there are moments of mid-air grace when players appear to be floating. Athletes dream about these moments, but Columbia Falls senior Kayla DeWit has another kind of floating on her mind. She’s thinking about the bones floating around in her left foot.

One could assume that floating bones would impede a basketball player. One could further assume that the combination of these floating bones with a weakened ankle that sprains every few days, the residual effects of a stress fracture and plantar fasciitis in both feet would be utterly crippling.

Those would be understandable assumptions, but DeWit has no time for assumptions. This is her senior year, after all, and each game is precious. What seems to hurt her most is sitting on the sidelines during practice to let her battered feet rest.

“It’s hard to watch because you want to be out there,” DeWit said.

It would be hard to say which foot is more problematic. The right one was in a cast after a painful stress fracture. Shortly after the cast was removed last June, the plantar fasciitis took hold in both feet. The left ankle, still weakened from a serious sprain last year, re-sprains every couple of games or so. And it’s connected to a foot with floating bones.

But DeWit, a 6-2 post who will play for Montana State University next year, does what she can to make sure she’s relatively healthy for games. She rests during practices, rides a bike to keep up her cardiovascular fitness and shoots to maintain her skills on the court. Then when it’s game time, she reminds everyone why she’s among the best players in the state of Montana.

DeWit is averaging 19.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game this year, both tops in the Northwestern A conference and nearly equal to her totals as a junior. She is undoubtedly on her way to a third straight Class A all-state selection, a rare distinction in Montana high school basketball.

Most importantly, on those fragile feet, DeWit has carried her team to a perfect 8-0 conference record and No. 1 seed heading into this week’s divisional tournament. The Wildkats’ overall record is 11-7.

Head coach Dan Fairbank said DeWit’s performance this season, considering her circumstances, “is amazing.” Toward the end of games, Fairbank can see DeWit laboring, but persevering, despite obvious pain.

“It hurts her just to go up and down the court,” he said. “She’s playing as well as I think she probably could with amount of pain she’s in.”

Doctors and the team trainer have all given DeWit the same message: Only rest will cure her ailments. On one hand, it’s encouraging for DeWit to hear that her problems can be solved once the season ends and before she has to report to MSU in Bozeman. On the other hand, she can’t stand being inactive.

“Kayla’s so addicted to exercise, it will be hard for her to rest,” Fairbank said.

DeWit has made multiple adjustments this season to work around her injuries, but perhaps the most difficult adjustment has been playing without her sister Kelsey, who plays for Montana Tech and was recently named the NAIA women’s national player of the week. The DeWits have played basketball together since they were small and are close friends. When Kelsey graduated last year, Kayla faced the daunting prospect of going it alone.

“It took awhile to get used to, not having her around and going places with her all of the time,” DeWit said. “At the beginning of the season, it was very different.”

In a year filled with challenges, DeWit said she’s relieved she hasn’t had to worry about college. After her junior year, DeWit was in contact with colleges such as Gonzaga and the University of Montana, but she quickly chose MSU, the school that her mother, father, grandparents and aunt attended. Colleges were also interested in her for volleyball.

By committing to MSU before the season started, she eliminated the senior-year nerves of playing in front of coaches and performing under the microscope. She can just play her game.

“At state last year I saw all those coaches in the stands,” she said. “I was nervous.”

DeWit has expanded her offensive arsenal to feature three-pointers and long jump shots, in addition to her refined post game. At MSU, she expects to play forward, rather than a true center, giving her the opportunity to showcase her inside-out game. It seems unlikely, though, that she’ll improve on the one aspect of her game that Fairbank believes is lacking: meanness.

“She’s one of the nicest people you’ll meet off the court,” Fairbank said. “Unfortunately, she’s like that on the court too. Sometimes I want her to be a little less nice.”

If Columbia Falls places in the top two at the divisional tournament, DeWit will have one final chance to win a state championship. The Wildkats have made it to state the past two years but have only won one game, a 46-41 victory over Frenchtown last year. A memorable performance at state would be the last check mark for DeWit as she wraps up her remarkable career.

“She’s just a unique and special young lady,” Fairbank said. “I’ll miss her.”

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