(WIVB) – According to the NCAA, female athletes are six times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than men. Katie Titus, the star junior forward for Daemen College, could tell you all about it.
Titus suffered two ACL injuries when she was playing high school ball for Our Lady of Mercy in Rochester. She ripped up her knee when she was a freshman and again when she was a junior.
“I was really young the first time,” Titus said by phone this week. “So I didn’t handle that recovery process the best. It really was hard for me to be out, especially because at the time, since I was so young, none of my teammates had ever gone through that.”
It was difficult the second time, too, though Titus had been through it and had the support of teammates, therapists, coaches and trainers to get her through it. She found something even more vital than a knee ligament during her recovery:
“I realized at that point, after the second time, that there’s a lot more to going to college than just basketball,” she said. “It took me awhile, but it finally got to me.”
By then, Titus had committed to play Division I ball at Canisius. But in March of 2018, the Griffs fired Terry Zeh as women’s coach. The coaching change allowed Titus to reconsider her choice of college. Daemen was Division II, but they wanted her and had accepted her into the physical therapy program.
D-I, D-II … it wasn’t the level of competition that mattered most, but her level of happiness. Titus de-committed from Canisius, signed with Daemen — and never looked back.
“It ended up being an incredible decision,” she said.
Jen Banker, the fifth-year coach at Daemen, would certainly concur. “She’s a great person on top of being a great basketball player,” said Banker. “So to have that kind of person in our program we definitely made out on that deal.”
Titus, a Penfield native, was a star from the moment she arrived on campus. She led the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding as a freshman and, was a crucial cog in their steady ascent from a losing program to a champion and nationally ranked team.
Daemen, which made the jump from NAIA to NCAA Division II in 2015, went 11-18 and 12-17 in Banker’s first two seasons as head coach. They went 18-10 in Katie’s freshman year, 15-3 in the East Coast Conference. Last year, they went 23-5, won the ECC tourney and gained their first-ever NCAA tourney bid.
Last March 12, the Wildcats in Garden City, preparing for their NCAA opener the following day against Stonehill. They practiced at noon and were making dinner plans when the word came down: The tournament had been canceled because of COVID-19.
“We were definitely in game mode,” Banker recalled, “and to have it ripped out from under you was tough, for sure.”
It wasn’t the first time Titus had the game ripped away from her. Those two ACL recoveries had given her insight. She was now an education major. Two years earlier, she had done a mission to Ecuador, where she served as a volunteer for two weeks at a government-funded kindergarten for poor children.
While riding out the pandemic, Titus decided she wanted to have an impact on the world. While studying remotely, she saw an advertisement for “Pencils of Promise” (or PoP), a non-profit organization that builds schools and furthers education in the developing world. She applied for an internship and got it.
“I thought I could figure out how to do it with school and basketball and everything,” Titus said. “I had an amazing experience. It definitely was a good choice.”
Working mostly over Zoom, Titus wrote grants, edited proposals and did anything they asked of a bright, enthusiastic intern.
“I’ve definitely thought about teaching in a different country for awhile, teaching English maybe,” she said. “But I’m just taking one step at a time. I don’t really know for sure.”
For now, there’s basketball. Titus has found balance in her life, but hoops remains her passion. It was tough during the summer, with gyms closed and the loss of a typical off-season routine.
“We were limited, not only in the offseason but in the preseason,” Banker said. “There are stipulations trying to keep everybody safe. You could only have so many people in a group. You could only do this or do that. We did some Zoom workouts in the spring. We have tried to be creative and think outside the box.”
For a time, it seemed there might not be a season. But after a short training camp, Daemen finally began its new season on Jan. 16. The Wildcats picked up where they left off. They’re now 6-1 (4-0 in the ECC) and nationally ranked (13th) for the first time ever.
As of Monday, Titus was leading the ECC in scoring and rebounding. She’s averaging 15.0 points and 8.4 rebounds a game, while shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range. She also leads the Wildcats in blocked shots and steals.
Titus, is a versatile 6-foot player who can post up or drift out to the perimeter and shoot three-pointers, much like Daemen’s all-American men’s star, Andrew Sischo. Like Sischo, she wasn’t asked to shoot much from distance back in high school.
“She’s actually one of our best three-point shooters,” Banker said. “She has a beautiful shot. I knew that from the first time I watched her play. We’ve encouraged her from day one to do that from day one. It’s nice to have, because a lot of other teams’ centers can’t play her inside and out. It’s a huge weapon.”
Titus is also at her best when the stakes are highest. She was all-ECC second team last season, but was Most Outstanding Player in the league tournament, averaging 20.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks on the way to the title.
“Yeah, I try to do whatever my team needs. Usually in a tough game, that will come with playing a lot more minutes, so I just try to show up and do what I can.”
The sad thing is, her family can’t show and watch her in person. No spectators are allowed at Daemen games because of COVID concerns, a huge blow for a great basketball family.
Her father, Bob, played college ball at Geneseo. Her mother, Helen, played a year at Gannon before concentrating on her engineering studies. Brother Sam played on a state championship squad at Bishop Kearney with current NBA player Thomas Bryant.
“My dad is retired now,” Titus said. “So he is extremely devastated that they can’t come to our games this year. They never missed a game, so it’s definitely weird. We’re making the most of it. They’re having watch parties at home.”
The NCAA has given all players an extra year of eligibility, regardless of how many games are played this season. Titus could play two more years after this one. She said she hasn’t decided, but she knows her dad would love an extra year.
“That’ll be up to her when the time comes,” Banker said. “But the offer is definitely there.”
Titus is focusing on this season, on keeping safe in the team’s “bubble” and getting back to the NCAAs and play the game that was stolen from them a year ago. She wants to be an example, like the women who were leaders when she was a freshman.
“I kind of found my spot and my role,” Titus said, “ and throughout the years it emerged into more. I’m just happy to be with this group of individuals and playing alongside this team, because it’s something special, let me tell you.”
Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning journalist who joined the News 4 team in 2020 after three decades as a sports columnist at The Buffalo News. See more of his work here.