Logan Vaagene dribbles upcourt

MayPort-CG senior guard Logan Vaagene, right, and sophomore Gavin Mewes helped spark a 17-0 run in MPCG’s 65-44 come-from-behind win over Larimore on Tuesday night in Mayville.

MAYVILLE – Logan Vaagene knew his season was over.

The MayPort-CG guard clutched his knee, rolled over and hammered a fist into the Hillsboro Events Center gym floor after landing on the foot of a defender more than a year ago.

Vaagene hadn’t suffered a serious injury in his high school career, but MPCG’s leading scorer had a hunch he wouldn’t play for the Patriots the remainder of his junior year.

“When I was walking off the court, I knew it was my ACL,” Vaagene said. “My coaches were telling me to keep my head up, but I knew what had happened. I just knew.”

Vaagene’s name can be added to a short list of high school athletes who suffered ACL tears as juniors and returned to the court for their senior seasons.

But the collection of ballers who’ve battled back from two ACL tears and surgeries on the same knee – in a relatively brief span of five months – may be more exclusive.

It’s a list that includes Vaagene.

“It’s the kind of thing that you never think would happen to you,” said Vaagene, camped out in a weight room overlooking MPCG’s gym after his team’s 65-44 win Tuesday over Larimore.

“It’s something you hear about that happens to other people.”

Vaagene came off the bench Tuesday and helped spark a come-from-behind win for the Patriots with a pair of 3-pointers and ankle-breaking spin moves in the lane against the Polar Bears.

The outing marked Vaagene’s fifth game and undoubtedly best performance of the season – one that resonated with his teammates and coaches.

“The amount of courage and fight that kid has in him is unbelievable,” said Taylor Kunkel, MayPort-CG’s head coach.

“Sports are here for the time being but the fight that he has inside of him is going to last his whole life.”

Basketball has been Vaagene’s sport for as long as he can remember.

He played football in elementary school and suited up for the Patriots his sophomore year.

But his heart belonged to basketball and he set aside football to lift weights and focus on the hardwood his junior season.

Then he tore his ACL with 4:34 left in the second quarter in a Jan. 3, 2020 road loss to Hillsboro-Central Valley.

Twenty-four days after tearing his ACL, he headed to a Fargo hospital where orthopedic surgeon Benjamin Noonan repaired Vaagene’s damaged knee.

“It went pretty smooth the first time,” Vaagene said. “He had to drill through the femur because it wasn’t lining up exactly the way he wanted it to but overall it went smoothly.”

The months after the surgery were difficult for Vaagene.

The global pandemic caused by the new coronavirus shut down school and spring sports.

Vaagene couldn’t see his friends or spend time in the gym.

“I couldn’t shoot at all and I wasn’t socializing,” he said. “I wasn’t in a good place. I didn’t have any motivation to do my exercises. It was really hard.”

The months passed and Vaagene reached a point in May when he was scheduled to ramp up his rehabilitation at the Sanford POWER Center in Fargo.

But a freak accident sent him back under the knife weeks later.

Having car troubles for a few days, Vaagene had been popping his car’s hood and squeezing his vehicle’s starter relay to start the car when he left the vehicle in gear.

Parked outside Mayville’s Cenex store, the car took off, automatically locked its doors, rolled across the ditch and crashed into the nearby Casey’s General Store.

Vaagene raced around the vehicle frantically attempting to open one of its doors before desperately pushing against the car in a failed attempt to slow its momentum.

“That’s when it happened again,” said Vaagene, staring down at his knee. “It was a partial tear, not the full-blown one the first time around.”

An MRI confirmed a tear and Vaagene had a second ACL surgery June 10.

He spent the summer debating whether he’d ever return to a basketball court.

His friends encouraged him to play, but Vaagene had his doubts.

“I had friends telling me ‘Go for it,’ but they don’t know what it’s like,” Vaagene said. “But I always had it in the back of my mind that I would play.”

The Patriots kicked off practices Nov. 30 and Vaagene rejoined his teammates Dec. 10 after being cleared to play by doctors.

This season hasn’t been smooth sailing. In addition to bouncing back from knee surgery, Vaagene has endured severe pain from shin splints that have sidelined him a handful of games.

He made his debut in a 47-36 home loss to Finley-Sharon/Hope-Page on Jan. 5.

He went 0-7 from the field and had trouble settling into a rhythm on offense.

Was his less-than-ideal start a product of a year off, lack of confidence or concerns about his knee?

“It was a lot of things,” Vaagene said. “I am nowhere close to the player I was. I’m fine admitting that.”

But on Tuesday, nearly a month after that loss to the Spartans, flashes of the old Vaagene returned.

Vaagene buried a 3-pointer from the left wing in the second quarter.

He went end to end to tie the game 35-35 with 2:40 left in the third and he drained another three that put the Patriots ahead 42-38. He added a pair of free throws minutes later.

In the fourth quarter, he barked at his teammates demanding the ball on the baseline.

“It was a moment I’ve been waiting all season to see,” Kunkel said.

“That’s what leaders do. They step up when their team needs them to.”

Kunkel knows how much basketball means to Vaagene, whom he calls a gym rat.

The MPCG coach has had to kick Vaagene out of the gym to get him to go home.

But Vaagene’s isn’t deterred easily.

Don’t pass this on to MPCG school administrators, but he may or may not slip a quarter into the gym’s outside door so it won’t lock.

Vaagene understands whether it’s shin pain, his twice-repaired knee or an unexpected COVID-19 shutdown, his opportunities to lace up his sneakers and take the court as a Patriot are dwindling.

He’s trying to make the most of those chances he has left.

“What’s happened to my knee, it may happen again, but we hope it doesn’t,” Vaagene said.

“For a long time I felt bad for myself but at some point you have to decide if you’re going to keep feeling bad for yourself or whether you’re going to fight back.

“I like this sport so much and my hope is to go out there and do everything I can to help the team win. It’s a risk being out there but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.”