Boys basketball: CMCS star has a quick recovery

Jan. 17—PRINSBURG — A wave of fear hit Ryan Harrington near the end of the boys soccer season.

A right back on Central Minnesota Christian's defense, Harrington collided with a St. John's Prep player in the final game of the regular season and went down to the turf. The diagnosis was a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee.

"I was panicking; all I could think of is am I going to be back in time to play basketball," said Harrington, knowing he'd be a key cog for the Bluejays' boys basketball team.

"(The doctors) told me I should be ready two weeks before the basketball season so I wasn't too worried. But I was a little nervous."

His basketball coach, Ted Taatjes, was at that game.

"I was obviously concerned right away," Taatjes said. "We talked a little bit after the diagnosis and how you have to attack the rehab. Otherwise, it'll linger longer and longer."

That panic has since dissipated. The 6-foot-4 junior post is putting up strong numbers for the 8-3 Bluejays. And the brace Harrington sported on his right knee at the start of the season has been left behind.

"It hurts a little bit every day, but I just play through it," said Harrington, who will either ice the knee or soak it in water post-game. "It feels the same with the brace, so I thought I may as well not wear the brace and push through it."

Said Taatjes, "I think he did a nice job of staying disciplined and continuing to work on (his physical therapy)."

That desire to put the work in has helped Harrington immensely. Playing in blowouts as a sophomore, he is now CMCS' top post presence. He averages 17.7 points (on 52% shooting) and 7.5 rebounds. Both rank second on the team.

"He's real solid 15 feet and in," Taatjes said. "He's extremely calm in the post; he doesn't get rushed. He doesn't travel because he's trying to speed up. He's very calm and collected."

Across the street from his house, Harrington had the perfect practice partner and mentor in Caleb Vander Beek. Vander Beek was CMCS' main post last season and has been eager to pass the torch to Harrington. The jump hook that Harrington can shoot with both hands, that was a shot he took from Vander Beek.

"It was some big shoes to fill," Harrington said of taking on Vander Beek's role. "He's basically coached me after games sometimes and tells me what he thinks I can do. He's at college now ... but every now and again, I'll practice with him and he'll give me pointers on what I can do. He's just been really helpful this season."

During the Bluejays' postseason run last season, Taatjes saw Harrington's potential while working with Vander Beek. That momentum has carried over into this season.

"(Ryan's) learned a lot from (Vander Beek)," Taatjes said. "Ryan's an impressionable guy; he doesn't think he's better than anyone. He's really open to listening, whether that's feedback or criticism. He's open to learning.

"I couldn't ask for anything better than an outgoing senior showing the ropes to an upcoming player like that."

Even after graduating 70 percent of the team's scoring in Vander Beek, Case Mulder and Ben Van Eps, the Bluejays' success continues.

They're the top team in the Camden Conference North Division at 6-1. Heading into Tuesday's game against Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, CMCS has a 19-game win streak against Camden North opponents. The last division loss came on Feb. 19, 2021 against Lac qui Parle Valley.

"We're definitely missing some leadership, but (last year's seniors) taught us a lot of key things before they left," Harrington said. "They really coached us up. They kind of helped us develop our game to be more like them. The gap wasn't so big before they left because they taught us everything they knew."

That panic Harrington had in the fall is gone. Now, his confidence grows as CMCS aims for another shot at a Section 3A championship.

"There's two sides to that injury, the physical part and the mental part of getting over your knee hurting or not feeling 100 percent," Taatjes said. "He kept saying he was 100 percent but you could see he wasn't quite there. Then during the Christmas break time, he shed the knee brace and it looked like he wasn't thinking as much while he was playing.

"That all takes time and he's done a nice job recovering from that from both the physical and mental side."