Pierce pivotal in Rebels’ return

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM RING • Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s 6-foot-5 senior forward Tyler Pierce poses for a photograph during Wednesday’s practice in preparation for the upcoming Iowa High School Boys’ State Basketball Tournament in Des Moines.

REINBECK — Tyler Pierce is back, and possibly better than ever. The adversity the Gladbrook-Reinbeck senior basketball player has endured the past eight months or so has made this trip to the boys’ state tournament with his Rebel brothers that much sweeter.

In a summer league basketball game in Marshalltown back in June, Pierce went up for a shot. When he came down, he landed awkwardly where his right knee began to twist. Then it kept twisting. Pierce eventually heard a pop. He was calm but feared the worst in the first round of testing, but after more extensive testing, the worst was confirmed. A torn ACL.

“I was on one of the blocks and I went to go do my traditional baby hook to the middle,” Pierce said. Since I’m left-handed, I wanted to use my left hand to try to score. My right foot stuck, and I kept twisting. I fell, lost my traction and heard a pop. My leg kind of went numb. I didn’t know what was happening.

“We went to the hospital that day. I was originally told it was a MCL sprain. I was happy because I was like, ‘OK, I’ll be back for football.’ Went to a specialist, who said ‘I think you tore your ACL, but we’ll need an MRI to see if it is for sure torn.’ I found out the results that Thursday. I tore my ACL, and I tore my meniscus on each side.”

Pierce’s senior year was not off to the greatest of starts. He would miss the final year of his high school football career as part of a team that had big plans for him after the Rebels had to replace four of its top five tacklers lost to graduation from the 2015 state title team. He could’ve played football in 2016 on the torn ACL, but there was always the chance of doing damage to other parts of the knee, and if Pierce was going to play anything, he wanted it to be at a high level. With guys like Mason Skovgard, who led the Rebels with 9.5 sacks, Pierce knew the Rebels would be fine without him.

He was right.

G-R didn’t lose a game on the gridiron, claiming its second-straight Class A state football championship. Pierce made the tough decision to opt for the surgery that needed to be completed at some point, and turn his focus to basketball. Pierce was on the sideline for every football game, wearing the pads and all, being the team leader he has come to be. He did get on the football field late in the season as the deep back on victory formation kneel down plays.

Extensive and hard rehab, Pierce was cleared for basketball just six months after the injury occurred. Much to the surprise of G-R basketball coach Scott Kiburis.

“I started doing the dates,” Kiburis said. “I’ve gone through a couple ACL surgeries. I’ve had players go through ACL surgeries in the past. He said, ‘I’m getting it done June 15, but I’ll be back by Dec. 15.’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘Well yeah, that’s wishful thinking. That’s not going to happen.’ It’s an eight, nine-month process. It’d be great if we could get him suited up toward the end of the season.

“He got his six-month checkup. He came that day with the paperwork and said, ‘I’m cleared.’ I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I knew he had been doing so much work. I knew that this was maybe going better than I was thinking.”

Having been through similar experiences, Kiburis admitted he was worried about putting Pierce back out on the court. Then again, he also admitted he’s a worst-case scenario thinker, the opposing-team-is-always-better kind of coach. But things have been night and day for the Rebels since inserting Pierce into the lineup.

“The reason we’re here is because of him,” Kiburis said. “He’s just personality and the life of the team.

“Ty is the personality of the (seniors). He’s the one who’s very confident.”

Pierce’s first game action came in a 47-42 overtime home win against AGWSR on Jan. 3, where he was responsible for four points and seven rebounds coming off the bench. He cracked the Rebel starting lineup against Waterloo Columbus on Jan. 12 where he would stay for the next 19 games. In a matchup of the top NICL West teams in Le Grand on Jan. 26, Pierce posted his first of three double-doubles this season. Pierce scored 20 points and hauled in 13 rebounds, helping the Rebels to a 76-73 win against East Marshall that night.

His two other double-doubles happened in the postseason. Pierce had 15 points and 10 boards against Belle Plaine in the Class 1A District 6 semifinals. Then with a trip to the state tournament on the line, Pierce scored 11 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in a 68-62 overtime win against Wapsie Valley. In his 21 games this season, Pierce has come to be G-R’s third leading scorer, averaging 10.2 points a game, while leading the Rebels in rebounding, pulling 6.6 off the glass a game.

As is the case with most coming off an ACL injury, there was some hesitation how the knee would hold up in Pierce’s return. Pierce said after about the first three games back, the jitters wore off, and he was full go.

“There was a couple times I took a couple falls,” Pierce said. “I grabbed my knee. Then I was like, ‘Oh wait, your knee is fine. Get up and play basketball.’ The first couple falls, I was a little scared. But then after, I kept taking charges, and I kept taking hits. I kept getting up.

“I don’t want to play scared. If you play scared, you probably won’t play the best you can. I just try to go out there to have fun, and play the best. Just have to trust the knee.”

Pierce is ready to lay it all on the line when the Rebels take on Lynnville-Sully in the quarterfinal round of the Class 1A tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines at 10:30 a.m. on Monday.

“You never know when (something will happen), and you can never play sports again,” Pierce said. “(Football) coach John Olson always says you should always work hard because you never know when it could be your last play. That’s the big thing I learned is you always need to work hard.”