Brock Netter, Staff Writer
KINNIKINNICK — Following the 2018-19 season, Zane Trace knew it had a chance to do something incredibly special this winter with its starting five players returning to the hardwood.
The Pioneers had just finished a campaign where they had won their first conference title since 2010, their first Gold Ball since 2001, and their first district title since 1970.
Needless to say, after an added year of development and chemistry, and a drop in divisions due to enrollment figures, hopes were high that Zane Trace could make a deep tournament run with an uber-talented roster … maybe even a run to the state tournament.
But then a key piece of the Pioneers’ puzzle fell out of place during an offseason shootout event at Ohio State University that, at the time, seemed to put a major damper on any state tournament aspirations.
Big man Nick Nesser, who had left vacation four days early to participate, went through a routine play to get a good look at the basket. But when he jump-stopped, his knee sunk inwards and he felt two pops.
“It was one of those situations that you sort of kick yourself about looking back at it,” Nesser said. “I was playing pretty well and getting my legs slowly back under me since I hadn’t played while I was on vacation. It was a normal play and then it happened, and I couldn’t put any weight on my leg.”
After seeing the trainers and going through a series of tests, it was only suspected that his kneecap had just shifted its place.
But Nesser wanted to make sure everything was OK.
Wanting a second opinion, Nesser went to Adena Medical Center for more testing and an MRI. His injury then turned from a shifted kneecap to his worst fear: a torn ACL in his right knee.
“That MRI completely blindsided me and my family,” Nesser said. “Going from a shifted kneecap and maybe some meniscus damage to a torn ACL, there were a lot of emotions. My family was sad, and my heart just dropped to the pit of my stomach. It definitely wasn’t what we were expecting to hear. I was playing basketball at a level I hadn’t before and something like that potentially ruins the season.”
However, there was a silve lining … however small it may have been.
Nesser had already suffered a torn ACL in his left knee when he was in seventh grade. So he had a small understanding of what to expect.
Additionally, with the advances in technology and physical therapy, there was a possibility that he could return for the first game of the season.
He underwent surgery and began the process of getting full motion back into his knee. With weeks of physical therapy and strength training, he was one step closer to getting back to playing the game he loves.
“My coaches were actually with me the day of my surgery,” Nesser said. “My teammates were right beside me every step of the way, checking on me and asking if I needed anything. If nothing else, it was just great having them to hang out with and feel like nothing had changed.
“Physical therapy is a day-by-day grind,” Nesser said. “It made me appreciate the small little goals like bending my knee two or three degrees more everyday. Then it built up to walking a straight line with no limp and eventually getting to run.”
Nesser admits that he pushed the process a little faster then he should’ve and maybe worked a little harder to quicken the process. Although his teammates and coaches never pressured him to get back as soon as possible, he didn’t want to miss any part of his senior year.
All the long days and grueling hours of therapy paid off when Nesser took the floor alongside his teammates in the Pioneers’ first game this winter in the Zane Trace Tipoff Classic against Amanda-Clearcreek.
Not wasting anytime at all, he scored the team’s first seven points, which let him know internally that his knee was just fine.
Nick Nesser was back to his old tricks, just months after almost seeing an entire year of basketball slip through his fingers.
“I couldn’t worry about whether I could fully trust my knee or not. If something else was going to happen, it was going to be out of my control,” Nesser said. “I put the time in, and I was ready to go.”
That first game was all Nesser needed to reassure himself on the court.
11 days later, his ultimate moment of truth came in a game at Vinton County. During a 78-52 victory, he received the ball on a fastbreak, used both knees to catapult himelf to the rim and finished the play with a two-handed slam.
“I couldn’t have been happier for Nick getting that dunk,” teammate Colby Swain said after the Pioneers’ victory over Vinton County. “For him to be back as quick as he did and play the way he has is crazy. I’m so happy for him.”
Zane Trace is currently 6-0 and Nesser is averaging 11.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and a block per night while shooting nearly 48 percent from the floor.
Needless to say, Nesser is back and better than ever and his teammates are happy he’s healthy and able to run with them.
“It’s huge getting Nick back on the court,” teammate Cam Evans said. “He’s worked harder than anybody I know getting his knee back together. He deserves the credit.”
Zane Trace is back in action this coming weekend, hosting Westfall on Friday and traveling to Unioto on Saturday.
Nesser will be front and center, savoring every moment he can.
“It seems like days ago, I was just stretching and seeing how far I could bend my knee post-surgery,” Nesser said. “Scoring those [first] points [against Amanda-Clearcreek] was beyond exciting. My teammates, family, friends and classmates were all cheering me on which is a moment and feeling I’ll never forget.”