Girls Basketball

Seven weeks after heart surgery, Rainey returns to spark East’s win over Mater Dei

Kaylah Rainey walks two days after open heart surgery

Belleville East Lancers girls basketball star Kaylah Rainey is ahead of schedule in her recovery from surgery to fix a serious heart defect that will cause her to miss her senior season.
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Belleville East Lancers girls basketball star Kaylah Rainey is ahead of schedule in her recovery from surgery to fix a serious heart defect that will cause her to miss her senior season.

Seven weeks after undergoing possible season-ending open heart surgery, Belleville East senior Kaylah Rainey returned to the basketball court Thursday at the Highland Scott Credit Union Tournament.

Rainey’s emotional season debut couldn’t have gone any better.

One of the top ranked point guards in the nation, the 5-foot-9 Rainey played nine minutes, scored four points and added two steals as the fired-up Lancers trounced Mater Dei 58-38 in a semifinal game before a large turnout at Highland High School.

Rainey, whose surgery was performed on Nov. 30 at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, entered the game Thursday with just over four minutes remaining in the first quarter. Just under a minute later she stripped the ball from a Knights player near midcourt and went in for a layup.

“I was afraid I was going to miss it,’’ Rainey said with a smile after the game. “That thought would never go through my mind, but I just haven’t played. I was just happy it went in.’’

Two possessions later, Rainey drove the baseline and fired a no-look pass to B’Aunce Carter for a layup. Battling fatigue, Rainey played 2 minutes, 41 seconds in the opening quarter. But the message was clear.

Kaylah Rainey is back.

“The response she got when she entered the game. ... It was just very special,’’ Lancers coach Amanda Kemezys said. “The plan was to let her play for a couple of minutes at a time tonight. We certainly won’t rush her.

“What she has gone through in the last seven weeks and the amount of work she has put into getting back to this point is remarkable. It was great to see her score and get a couple of steals, but just her leadership and presence on the court ... She is all about the team. ‘’

And on this night, the Lancers team was very good. Getting a game-high 19 points from Nyah Ford, East (13-9) jumped out ot a 28-5 lead and romped into a semifinal game with host Highland at 7 p.m. Friday.

Kaylah Rainey, who has starred with the Belleville East Lancers girls basketball team since her freshman year, was looking forward to closing out her career with a huge season. Instead, she'll need a surgery to fix a serious heart defect.

Civic Memorial will take on O’Fallon in the first semifinal at 5:30 p.m. The title game is set for 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Diagnosed with Anamulous left coronary artery, a heart defect she was born with, Rainey was originally told the recovery time would be from 12-14 weeks, meaning that she would be out for the season.

That didn’t sit well with Rainey, who after signing a scholarship offer with Northwestern in mid-November was determined to get back and help her teammates as soon as possible.

“How did she recover so quickly? By the grace of God, first of all,’’ said her father, Dr. Lawrence Rainey. “The amount of hard work she put in was really something. Kaylah did exactly what the doctors told her to do. She did that little extra on her own time.

‘I guess I’m a little surprised she’s back playing so soon. As a parent you are always concerned about the welfare of your child, but after talking with the doctors and seeing that the test results show that the heart is good. After the last test this week we were able to see how good the heart really was.’’

Rainey was cleared to play on Tuesday. In the minutes before her season debut, she described herself as anxious.

Highly-recruited Belleville East Lancers point guard Kaylah Rainey announced her college choice.

“Not really nervous. I was just very excited and happy to be on the court,’’ Rainey said. “As soon as I got on the court and saw everybody, my coaches, teammates, fans cheering for me, I got really excited and maybe a little emotional.

“It felt so good to be back on the court. I love this atmosphere.’’

As for her next game on Friday, Rainey expects to play at least a couple of more minutes.

”Hopefully, we’ll increase it a little more in the next couple of games,’’ Rainey said. “We’ll see how it all goes. I’d say right now I’m probably at about 80 percent.’’

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Dean Criddle has worked at the Belleville News-Democrat for 32 years as a sports writer. Dean graduated from SIUE with a double major in journalism and English, is married and lives in Belleville.