It was a challenging year that was made just a little harder before the first game even started.
In the summer of 2020, Kim Hilgenberg, the mother of senior-to-be Kyndal Hilgenberg, was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer. Because of the diagnosis, Kim wasn’t going to be able to make it to too many basketball games to see her daughter play. That was, if there was even going to be a season.
The unknowns of the COVID-19 virus had cast some doubt over what the basketball season would look like. The season would be played to completion for Iowa girls high school athletics. For the Hilgenbergs, and the rest of the Kuemper Catholic girls basketball team, it was a season where their bond only continued to be strengthened.
It started on the first home game of the year. Before that inaugural home game, unknown to Kyndal and Kim, the girls basketball team had a surprise in store.
First was the debut of a new warm-up sweater for the team. Instead of donning their usual red and gold gear, the team would wear a light blue sweater with the words, “Faith over fear. We wear blue for Kim.” The move caught Kyndal off guard.
When the team members emerged from their locker room, the very same blue sweaters were being worn by parents of teammates. Before the game, the team had handed out the sweaters to show support for the Hilgenbergs.
That first night in December, as the Knights were introduced for the opening lineup, they each brought a blue rose to Kim, who was sitting in the bleachers.
It wasn’t the last time this season that the Hilgenbergs, and the Kuemper Catholic girls basketball team, would be reminded of how strong of a family feel there is with sports in Iowa.
“That’s what this is about. You have to use sports as a vehicle to teach life lessons,” said head coach Tyler Tryon after a Feb. 13 game against Cherokee. “Sports keeps things in perspective.”
During a Jan. 9 game against East Sac County, the Hilgenbergs, and the rest of the Kuemper girls basketball team were reminded of how close the sports community is. Despite being opponents, the entire Raider team and most of the fans who showed up to watch the game were wearing some form of blue, to honor Kim.
Later in January, the public had a chance to show its support for the Hilgenbergs.
One of the most famous Kuemper Catholic alumni, Nick Nurse, the current head coach of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, donated 100 sweaters to be given away during the game. By halftime of the girls game, only a handful of the sweaters remained. They had all disappeared before the boys game started that night.
The Kuemper student section usually wore some sort of blue throughout the season, but a Feb. 8 game had the entire student section show up in blue.
On Feb. 13, the Knights’ season came to a close as they fell against then-No. 1 ranked Cherokee in Cherokee.
Before the game, the Knights arrived to a surprise in their locker room. The Braves had left a card for Kyndal and her family in the locker room. On the court, every member of the Braves basketball team wore a light blue headband in honor of Kim.
“When you have other teams that continue to show up and offer those type of sentiments and gestures, it really shows how much good is really left in the world,” Tryon said. “It shows how much of a family sports in Iowa are too.”
The Knights may not have had the type of season they wanted, record wise, but what the team went through over the course of the year made them feel more together as a family.
“To see the girls at the beginning of the year to worry if we would even have a season and then to go through the season that we’ve had,” Tryon said. “You know, we went through the big ups and downs, and we’ve had some stuff that I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through.
“For our team to persevere through this type of season is a testament to the family and the team that we have. Good kids come from good families.”
Throughout the season, the Knights not only built a basketball team, but together they were able to build a family that will last long after the buzzer sounded on Feb. 13.