FEATURE: All in the Journey | #schoolshooting

By Sadie Keller

Gopher Sports Contributor
As her name was announced under the flashing lights at Williams Arena before Monday night’s regular season opener against Western Illinois, Katie Borowicz took in the roar of the crowd and paused for a moment. She has experienced pregame fanfare countless times before, but this time was different. She waited 607 days for this moment in an official game, afterall. 

“I’m so psyched for this season,” Borowicz said. “And not just because I finally get to play basketball again. But because I am so in love with this team. They’re amazing. There is no drama. We’re all die-hards for each other.”

Nothing about Borowicz’s journey to this season in the Maroon and Gold has been ordinary. 

A star player at Roseau High School, Borowicz was the 98th-ranked player overall in her class, a four-star recruit according to ESPN and a three-time all-state selection. As a junior in her last season for the Rams, she averaged 31.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 6.2 steals and 6.0 assists per game. Borowicz was a part of the varsity team since seventh grade, amassing 1,000 points by her sophomore season and scoring over 2,000 in her career. She led her team to a state title in 2017, a runner-up effort in 2018 and a push to the semifinals in 2019.

However, due to unique circumstances, Borowicz chose to graduate from Roseau early and enrolled at the University of Minnesota for the spring semester in 2021, joining the Gophers women’s basketball squad at the mid-season mark. The extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted during the pandemic allowed Borowicz to get half of a season of experience and still have four years of eligibility left.

“Covid-19 changed a lot of aspects of not only my life, but everyone’s lives,” Borowicz said in a statement. “There were a lot of variables to consider but ultimately I knew it would give me the greatest chance to become a better basketball player.”

Borowicz immediately made an impact for Minnesota, appearing in 14 games with one start for the Gophers in the second part of the 2020-21 season, averaging 3.9 points, 2.4 assists and 1.9 rebounds. Her .375 shooting percentage on three-pointers was best among Gophers players with at least 30 attempts, and she shot .400 from the three-point line in Big Ten Conference play. 

She ended the season with her best performance, tallying a season-high 12 points with four assists and three steals against Nebraska in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. 

“I think she’s done a great job of coming into a situation that none of us have ever been in,” Head coach Lindsay Whalen said after that Big Ten Tournament game. “Graduating early, getting down here and joining the team midway through the season and then getting her first career start. Once she got her feet under her, I thought she just got things going in the second half and she showed a lot of poise and a lot of grit. I’m proud of the whole team, but definitely proud of her.”

But just as Borowicz was getting her feet under her, her journey on the court was halted. 

For as long as she could remember, Borowicz experienced discomfort and a tingling feeling in her legs when standing for long periods of time. But, it started to become worse as she continued her basketball career at the division one level in Minneapolis. 

“The more activity I did, the more my legs would get tingly numb,” she said. “Inside it would feel like a whole bunch of sharp needles, and it was from the waist down.”

After trying to compete through it, soon the pain became too much, and her legs would hurt so badly she could hardly stand. While MRI scans of her lower legs and spine came back clear, a full-body MRI found a startling discovery. 

Borowicz’s brain was being pushed out of the bottom of her skull. 

The diagnosis was Chiari malformation, in her case caused by the brain being normal sized but the skull being too small. This created pressure that pushed part of her brain into the spinal canal, falling on her nerves and causing problems every time she tried to use her legs. 

After the problem became too much to bear, Borowicz opted for surgery before the start of the 2021-22 campaign to shave off part of her skull at the base to relieve the pressure. She would miss the entirety of the season during her recovery. 

“They took off half of my top vertebra,” Borowicz said. “With the pressure gone, they hoped the cyst would go away. After we got an MRI, it got smaller.”

Following a difficult recovery period after the surgery, she began to progress during the spring months and was cleared for summer workouts. Her fierceness and passion for the game never wavered, making Coach Whalen take notice. 

“Tremendous,” Whalen said. “She’s a coach’s dream. She has no fear. She’s built that way. And she speaks her mind which — as a coach, on the floor — is what you want. Last year it was tough without her.”

Borowicz’s journey in a Gophers uniform wasn’t supposed to be almost taken from her like that, but it is the journey that made her stronger and has forged her into the player and leader she is today. 

Now in her third year at Minnesota, Borowicz is one of three returnees, along with Maggie Czinano and Rose Micheaux. She is tasked with leading a recruiting class that has been ranked as high as No. 4 in the nation and features the likes of Mara Braun, Nia Holloway, Mallory Heyer and Amaya Battle. A redshirt freshman herself with four years of eligibility remaining, Borowicz is determined to guide the team to the great expectations set for the young squad. 

“We want to be in the top half of the Big Ten,” Borowicz said of the team’s goals. “Even higher. It’s not limited to that. NCAA tournament. We’re all hard-core, competitive players. So we have very high expectations. I could list them off right now and people would probably laugh at me. But I think people will be very surprised by our outcome this year.”

The potential of the young team on the rise was on full display as the Gophers hosted UW-River Falls in an 104-64 exhibition victory on October 30. Borowicz posted double figures with 11 points on the day, but more importantly, it was her first game back from her season-ending surgery and was her first game in front of fans since high school. 

“I told her in the fourth quarter,” Whalen said, “A year ago you were in surgery. Look how far you’ve come.”

Borowicz continued her comeback on Monday night against Western Illinois. 

In her first official game since March 10, 2021, she scored a career-high 16 points with two assists and one rebound. She finished 6-of-9 from the field, including 4-of-6 from three-point range.

Then, there was a singular moment against Western Illinois where fans that have followed Borowicz since her days at Roseau knew she was officially back from this long and painful journey. Borowicz took a pass on the wing and launched a 28-foot three with her foot nearly out of bounds with still 23 seconds on the shot clock; it splashed nothing but the net. 

But more than her career-high numbers and the fanfare that met her, Borowicz was thankful for the opportunity to continue her journey. One that, for 607 days, she thought might not continue. 

“I have way more appreciation for basketball,” she said. “I feel anyone would say the same thing if they’d had an injury, or surgery. It’s hard sitting and watching people play when you feel like you could, or should, be doing the same thing.”

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