As a native Nebraskan, Taylor Kissinger knows "There Is No Place Like Nebraska." It is not just a slogan, or a motto, it is also the first line in a nearly 100-year-old school song also known as "Dear Old Nebraska U."
Within the 10 simple lines of one of Nebraska's most beloved songs, the final three lines resonate for all Huskers during this unique time in history: "We'll all stick together, in all kinds of weather, for dear old Nebraska U."
Kissinger, who missed nearly all of her third season at Nebraska in 2019-20 after undergoing hip surgery, knows a lot about weathering the storm as a basketball player and as a world citizen working together remotely to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The 6-1 shooter from Minden, Nebraska, has remained in Lincoln to continue her rehabilitation with hopes of returning to the court as a fourth-year junior with her beloved Huskers in 2020-21.
"My rehab has been slowed due to things closing down with COVID-19, but I have been able to continue with most of the exercises," Kissinger said. "It is hard to have a positive mindset with everything going on now, but I am trying to do my best so I can get back on the court with my teammates whenever we are allowed to again."
Kissinger, who led the Big Ten and ranked No. 4 nationally in three-point field goal percentage (.456) as a sophomore for the Big Red in 2018-19, has continued to work with guidance from Husker Women's Basketball Athletic Trainer Ashley Rudolph and Husker Women's Basketball Strength Coach Stuart Hart to prepare for her return to action.
The mathematics education major who has been an Academic All-Big Ten selection and a regular on the Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll is also working hard to complete her coursework for the spring semester.
"I have been spending all of my free time doing my rehab, and doing at-home workouts that Stuart has sent to us," Kissinger said. "I also have picked back up on my hobby of cooking and trying new meals."
While Kissinger is focused on returning to her role as one of the nation's top shooters, she knows she still has a lot of work to do in order to be ready for 2020-21. Just over three months since her hip surgery, Kissinger has increased her activity to a fast walk, but is still not able to run. Because of COVID-19, she also doesn't have access to a gym or weight room.
As she methodically gets her legs back underneath her through rehab, Kissinger expects her life-long ability as a shooter to shine again for the Huskers.
"I know every day that my shooting ability is something I can bring to the table for my team," Kissinger said. "Whether I am shooting the ball well or not, I am always continuing to work on it. I get in the gym almost every day of the week and either shoot by myself or with one our coaches or one of my teammates. I would not be where I am at without practicing my shot every day consistently since I was a little girl."
She honed her skills playing with her older twin sisters, Jamie and Brooke, and older brother, Derek, on their home court in Minden. The three-quarter court has two hoops and a "Gun" ball return/passer to help the shooter. Kissinger worked on her shot every day in the summer and fall, and was back on the outdoor court after her school practices during the winter.
Kissinger's exploits as a shooter placed her in an elite class as a competitor. She was rated as the No. 38 player in the nation by ESPN coming out of Minden High School, despite having multiple seasons shortened by injury. As a senior, she was a first-team Super-State selection after averaging 24.2 points and 9.0 rebounds per game while recovering from a wrist injury.
As a junior, she averaged 28.8 points and 8.2 rebounds for the Whippets following her return to the court from a broken wrist. As a sophomore in 2015, Kissinger averaged 25.6 points and 10.0 rebounds. In her four seasons of varsity basketball at Minden, Kissinger totaled 1,751 points, 611 rebounds, 310 assists and 202 steals despite missing 27 combined games as a junior and senior.
Kissinger missed seven games as a Husker freshman because of a pair of injuries, before playing all 30 games for the Huskers as a sophomore. In addition to hitting 45.6 percent of her threes in 2018-19, she also connected on 88.2 percent of her free throws.
She missed four games after the 2019-20 season opener as part of the concussion protocol following a collision in practice.
Kissinger returned to play four games, capping her 2019-20 season by tying her career highs with six three-pointers and four assists on her way to 19 points in a win over Duke on Dec. 4. Kissinger's performance against Duke was a magical moment in a personally challenging season.
"That game reminded me why I chose to play in front of my home state," Kissinger said. "It still gives me chills when I think about our fan base that night and how loud that gym was. It was also mainly an offensive game for both teams, so being able to have a high-scoring game made the game that much more fun. Unfortunately, it was also the last game I played as a junior, but I am glad I have that memory as the last game I played with my seniors (Hannah Whitish, Nicea Eliely, Grace Mitchell, Kristian Hudson)."
Soon after the 83-79 win over Duke, Kissinger made the difficult decision to undergo hip surgery and plan on a medical redshirt for the season. She underwent hip surgery on Jan. 3, 2020.
"It was tough to make the decision to sit out and not play again with the seniors," Kissinger said. "That was the hardest part of my decision. After the Duke game, I only slept for about two hours that night because my hip was throbbing and keeping me up. I knew then that I had a hard decision to make. It was hard to sit through this past season knowing that I could not really help my teammates during some of the tough games."
Nebraska Coach Amy Williams said Kissinger's absence affected the team's progress during the season.
"Losing Taylor was a tough blow for our team last season, particularly after coming off her six three-point makes in a big win over Duke," Williams said. "I think our team was really coming together and feeling very confident in playing to each other's strengths. We had to adjust without Taylor's talents as a basketball player, but also without her vocal leadership on the court." Kate Cain, a two-time Big Ten All-Defensive player who joined Kissinger in a top-25 national recruiting class for Nebraska in 2016-17, echoed Williams' sentiments about Kissinger's absence in 2019-20.
"We really missed Taylor last season. She's such a talented three-point shooter, and having her on the court not only is an offensive threat in itself, but she also helps spread the floor since teams have to prepare for her," Cain said. "People also underestimate how much of a rebounding asset she is. I am really looking forward to having her back on the court next season."
Within a week of her hip surgery, Kissinger also had her appendix removed in an emergency procedure. Although she has plenty of experience dealing with injuries, it doesn't make missing time with her teammates on the court any easier. Her personal disappointment and frustration in missing games is also helping to fuel her fire to return to the court.
"I want to put in all the effort I can the next couple years for my team and for my state. My time as a Husker is quickly coming to an end, whether I want it to or not. I want to make the most out of my last two years because these past three years have been so special to me. I am happy with my decision to stay in Nebraska and play because there is no place like it."
Williams, Cain and the rest of the Huskers will be looking forward to having Kissinger back, too.
"In the upcoming season we will rely on Taylor to be a vocal presence who understand what being a Husker is about," Williams said. "I think Taylor's injury and time out this past season has allowed her to become clear on what needs to happen for our team to reach our ultimate goals. Her leadership will be critically important in this coming season."
Kissinger said she used the second half of the season at Nebraska trying to become a better leader.
"I was able to watch from more of a coaching standpoint this year. I think I learned what we need on the court for our team to be successful, and the main thing is leadership. I am willing to step into that role," Kissinger said. "I am ready for the challenge of being the leader for my team. I have always led by example, but I have sometimes lacked the vocal part of it. That will be a difficult challenge for me. I want what is best for the team and what is best for my teammates.