Sydney Mouser was sitting in the Loyola locker room prior to practice earlier this year when fellow senior Katherine Jones came hobbling in with a knee that looked as if someone had taken a hammer to it.
Alarmed at what had happened to her lifelong friend, Mouser gasped and asked for an explanation. Jones, who’s had enough basketball-related injuries during her four-year career as a Lady Flyer to fill a tome, said she’d just fallen in a hole in the parking lot.
“We walked back out there and I put my leg in the hole and it came all the way up to my knee,” an amazed Mouser said. “Katherine turned to me laughing and said, ‘Hell tried to suck me down.’ We just laughed about it and she didn’t let that slow her down. She’s been a trooper.” And then some.
Despite never becoming a full-time starter at Loyola — despite missing games each year due to injuries — despite having to budget her time due to being an unparalleled honor student with 42 hours of advanced placement courses — Katherine Jones has hung in there as the consummate sixth man for a Loyola team heading into a LHSAA Class 4A state playoff game on Thursday.
“I don’t think that if I had been through what Katherine has been through, that I would have kept playing,” said Mouser. “I admire her for the way she has stayed with it and for helping our team.”
Engaging and personable, Jones sat in a room off the Loyola library recently and talked about her injury challenges with The Times. As a freshman she took a forearm to her face, fell backwards and hit her head. She blacked out, suffering a severe concussion that sidelined her for the remainder of that campaign.
Before her sophomore season started, she broke three bones in her foot while running hills off Stoner Avenue, missing three weeks of preseason work. She recovered to play the first half of the season but had a problem during a Christmas tournament in Monroe. She was putting on a sock when her knee locked up and she tore her meniscus in an effort to remove the lock. The ensuing surgery in January knocked her out for the remainder of that season.
Her junior season ended one game shy after she suffered a concussion in an automobile accident on the way to the finale.
“Before this season, one of my goals was to make sure Katherine made it through the entire season in one piece,” Loyola coach Kyle Tanner said chuckling. “We aren’t a very deep team and she realized how important the sixth man is. That’s a huge role and one she embraced when she came back. She’s one of those kids to have on the bench who can come in and the level of play doesn’t drop down. The importance of that position is why the NBA gives a Sixth Man Award.”
Jones began her senior campaign injury free but ran into another snag just a few games in when she fell on the court and noticed her leg was hurting. She played a few more games in pain before doctors diagnosed her with a fractured tibia. She recently completed rehab and is back on the court helping Tanner and Company in a limited role. She wears a brace and has a noticeable limp when she runs, but she keeps plugging.
“There definitely were times when I thought about giving up sports, but I love basketball and the relationship I have with my teammates,” Jones said. “I felt like I would be disappointing them if I didn’t continue playing.”
Part of her tenacity comes from the competitive nature that burns just below the surface of a prom-queen face disguising a bulldog-like attitude.
Just get her talking about her dad’s ACT score from back in the 1970s when he was allegedly a “great” athlete at Byrd High School playing in something akin to leather helmets, and her blood pressure rises — although the smile never leaves.
Also a standout on area tennis courts, Jones is smarter than the average bear — and apparently smarter than her attorney/father Marshall Jones.
“My dad told me I would never beat his ACT score,” said Jones, who would invite J.K. Rowling, Queen Elizabeth and Jimmy Fallon to her dream dinner date.
And it looked at first as if her dad was right. She scored a 29 as a freshman, a 31 as a sophomore and a 32 as a junior. Most teenagers would have taken that mark to the bank and to a full ride at most of the colleges in the U.S. That wasn’t the case with Jones, who calls “To Kill a Mockingbird” her most intriguing book.
On her fourth try, she hit a composite mark of 34. Dad’s was 33.
“Once I knew I beat my dad, I was done,” said Jones, a former Peter Pan Player who lists “Gossip Girl” or “Parks and Recreation” her fav TV shows. “When I received my ACT scores, I was extremely relieved that I wouldn’t have to take it again, but also very satisfied. The little competition I had with my dad definitely made me more determined to get a good score.”
She’s unbothered by fellow senior Ben Maxey’s perfect 36 on the test.
Jones said she has a circle of about a dozen close friends, including her doubles partner in tennis, Emily Milner. She enjoys playing basketball with junior Amber Smith, one of the most heavily recruited players in the area.
“We call her ‘Momma Amber’ because she’s always taking care of everyone else,” Jones said laughing. “She’s one who will definitely go places. I hope 20 years from now I can look back and tell my kids, ‘I played with her.’”
According to Jones, her athletic talent comes from her mother, Cindy, who played basketball at Sibley and still plays a mean game of tennis at East Ridge. Marshall Jones credits his wife with passing the smarts to their daughter, but he does give himself credit for one thing.
“Katherine is hard-headed like her dad,” he said.
President of the Loyola Key Club, Jones is active in Flyers Aiding the Hungry, Latin Club, SGA, National Honor Society … and the list goes on and on.
“I’m in just about everything that’ll get you a free T-shirt,” said Jones, who attended St. Mark’s for 12 years before moving down the road to Loyola.
With multiple AP classes under her belt, Jones has applied at 11 institutions of higher education, including several Ivy League schools, and has a full-ride offer from more than one.
Adept at playing the guitar, Jones said she only sings in the shower to date, but hopes to expand her singing arena soon. She plans to attend law school and parlay that education into becoming an attorney in the entertainment field.
“That would combine what I like and what I’m good at,” she said.
Jones was able to pick at her dad when her basketball team defeated Byrd each of the last two seasons. She never looked back on attending the college preparatory school and has enjoyed most of its traditions. Her favorite is The Pipeline at Messmer Stadium.
“All of the boys with trucks line up against the fence on the field, and put flour in their tailpipes,” she explained. “Whenever the football players run out, everyone revs their engines and jumps up and down in the back of the truck.”
Currently 5-foot-10, Jones said she should be 6-1 or 6-2 were it not for scoliosis that was discovered following her concussion. That disease hasn’t affected her playing, but she does sleep in a back brace. And she credits a number of folks for giving her “great instruction and motivation,” including coaches Suzanne Tinsley, Courtnee Young and Tanner, along with her orthopedist, Dr. Carlton Houtz and physical therapist, Richard Tubre, “for putting me back together multiple times.”
Jones’ intelligence assists her on-court performance because her physical presence is far from intimidating.
“Katherine is very stubborn, but she knows her limitations,” Tanner said. “She can be out there playing in pain, but she’ll look at me and hide it because she doesn’t want to come out. Her mental toughness to overcome physical problems is unmatched.”
Jones’ height and hair color haven’t left her immune from the good-natured taunts by teammates and friends.
“Some of them call me ‘Traffic Cone’ and others call me ‘the human giraffe,’” she said. “But I’m just a nerd.”
By Jimmy Watson