Just two minutes into what was supposed to be a banner senior season, Kristina Santiago could have seen all of her high hopes dashed.
Santiago injured her left knee in the opening minutes of the Cal Poly women’s basketball team’s 74-57 season-opening win at Seattle on Friday and did not return to the game.
“I was just driving toward the basket,” Santiago said. “My foot planted, and I kind of got hit twisting and just tweaked my knee.
“It’s like the worst thing that can happen two minutes into the game. More than anything, it just sucked.”
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The full severity of the injury won’t be known until Santiago undergoes an MRI in San Luis Obispo on Monday and learns the results later this week. If tests show the injury will require immediate surgery, the 6-foot-1 senior would be out for the season.
The reigning Big West Conference Player of the Year, Santiago was looking to lead the Mustangs to their first Big West championship and the program’s first NCAA Tournament in what was to be her final season.
Rachel Clancy, who scored a team-high 18 against Seattle, has said she chose to return for her fifth-year senior season to chase a championship. If the 5-9 guard from Limerick, Ireland, does not get to play out the season with Santiago, Cal Poly’s title chances would take a huge hit.
Forward Abby Bloetcher had 14 points and seven rebounds after Santiago went out, but she was the only other Mustang in double digits. Backup forward Kayla Griffin had eight points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes.
Having played as a true freshman after coming out of Righetti High three years ago, Santiago could still take a redshirt season, but she is hoping that she will be able to return with rest.
“This is my senior year, so it was pretty ideal to have this be the last year I was here,” Santiago said. “Rachel, my best friend, is here. If I had to come back another year, it’s just something you gotta push through. I would do it because I don’t have another choice, but it’s not ideal for me to have to come back.”
Santiago is coming off a season in which she had a career-high 19.6 points per game and averaged 8.4 rebounds. She was also among the Big West steals leaders.
Aside from minor injuries, Santiago has been healthy at Cal Poly. She tore her right ACL at the end of her junior season at Righetti but came back to play as a senior to be named Co-Player of the Year in the PAC 7.
She said she had not had any problems with her left knee prior to Friday’s injury.
Santiago did see a doctor in Seattle before flying to Long Beach and driving home Saturday, but there was no firm diagnosis.
“It would be ideal to just have to get the swelling down and heal up and be back on the court,” Santiago said. “I’m not really sure the possibilities of what it could be.”