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'Syd The Kid:" Kannel completes college basketball career

Sydney Kannel (22) is shown while shooting a free throw for the UW-La Crosse women's basketball team this winter. Jim Lund photo

To New Richmond basketball fans, she'll always be "Syd The Kid."

Sydney Kannel followed up her outstanding high school athletic career by playing four years of basketball at UW-La Crosse. In this season, she spent her senior season as a team captain, helping the Eagles to one of their best finishes in years.

Kannel was the Middle Border Conference Player of the Year in her senior season at NRHS, leading the Tigers to a 21-3 record and an MBC championship in the 2013-14 season. She was a three-time All-MBC player.

Kannel made an immediate impact as a freshman at La Crosse, seeing action in 18 games. It was during her sophomore season that Kannel met her greatest challenge. The Eagles had won a tournament in Colorado Springs over the Christmas break. The next day, in a practice, Kannel collided with a teammate who fell onto her knee, tearing her ACL. The agony of the injury was compounded because doctors didn't want Kannel to fly home, fearing the flight would cause major swelling in the injured knee. Instead, her parents drove her home from Colorado.

"I had to drive back 12 hours in pain," Kannel recalled last week. But the pain of the injury was minor compared to facing the possibility that her basketball career was in jeopardy.

"The toll was tremendous, emotionally and physically. It took away something I loved," Kannel said.

The recovery process was difficult and it took nearly six months. But it also taught Kannel something about herself.

"I realized you need to face adversity head on. It makes you a stronger person," she said.

The injury also caused fear to creep into Kannel's mind because the Eagles had named a new coach after her sophomore season. She worried that coach Karen Middleton wouldn't see past the knee injury. But Middleton said she saw how hard Kannel worked in rehabbing the injury. Kannel played with a large knee brace during her junior season, but it was the only reminder of the injury. She became a critical member of the team, playing in all 27 games and making eight starts.

"She's an incredible person. I was really fortunate to coach her for two seasons," Middleton said.

Kannel wore a bulky knee brace throughout her junior season. She started her senior season with the brace.

"I finally came to grips with it and got rid of the brace. It was a hurdle I had to get over. If felt like an accomplishment to play without it," she said.

Kannel also had to come to grips with a role change early in her senior season. She was the Eagles' starting point guard for the first 12 games of the season. Kannel said the Eagles recruited a top point guard prospect and the coaches felt she was ready to move into the starting lineup by midseason. Kannel said the change initially was a shot to her ego. The coaches asked Kannel to mentor the new starter while serving as the reserve point guard.

"Once I came to grips with it, I took on the role and did the best I could with it," Kannel said.

Kannel said the game that supplies the best memories from her college career came at the end of her junior season in the WIAC tournament. Kannel scored a career-high 23 points, hitting 8-11 shots from the field, in leading the Eagles past UW-Eau Claire, 69-57.

Basketball is a family tradition for the Kannels. Sydney's older brother, Riley, was a multi-year starter for the NRHS boys team. Her dad, Jim, coached the Tiger boys and girls varsity teams at different times during his career. Sydney said some of her favorite memories were shooting the ball with her dad and brother.

"On Christmas Eve, dad and my brother and I went to the gym to get some shots up," she said. She said she got into the habit of taking extra time whenever she could to work on her shot, often staying after practice to get more shots up.

Sydney said she plans to follow in her dad's footsteps to become a teacher. She has one more year of student teaching remaining and then she'll start looking for a teaching position. She's going to be certified for grades 1-8, but said she'd prefer to work with students in grades 1-4.

But while her dad was a varsity coach for multiple teams, Sydney said she has little interest in stepping up to that role. She said she'd prefer being an assistant coach or coaching at the junior high level.

Middleton said Kannel set an excellent example for her younger teammates.

"She's just a sweetheart. Her character is what separates her. She held herself to a really high standard."

Dave Newman

Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for more than 30 years.

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