Many people would be rather disconcerted by the thought of trying to play high-level basketball with the feeling of someone twisting a knife in your chest.
For Creighton freshman guard Marissa Janning, it’s just part of the game.
Janning has been playing since high school with a heart condition that sometimes leaves her short of breath, dizzy and with chest pains.
How bad are the pains?
“The only way I can describe it is it’s like someone is taking a knife and turning it,” Janning said. “Other times it’s like there’s a knot, and every time I try to breathe the knot gets tighter. It can be a sharp pain.”
Janning is quick to point out that her condition is not similar to the one that forced Josh Jones, a senior on the Creighton men’s team, to give up basketball in December. And she plays with no fear because batteries of heart tests and visits to specialists have left doctors to conclude she is not at risk when she’s on the court.
“The doctors told me not to worry about it,” Janning said. “And ... I’m used to it. I go out there knowing that nothing is going to happen.”
Creighton coach Jim Flanery said he knew nothing about Janning’s condition while he was recruiting her out of Watertown (Minn.) High School. He became aware of it when Janning experienced a couple of episodes during preseason practice.
She had another one while playing in a Jan. 25 home game against Northern Iowa. She scored 12 points and played 26 minutes in the victory. Several times when she was out of the game, Janning was seen standing at the end of the Creighton bench breathing into a paper sack as if she were hyperventilating.
“It’s just a way to get my breathing under control,” she said.
Janning said she was a sophomore in high school when she experienced her first episode. Doctor visits and tests uncovered no reason for the condition, and she was cleared to play basketball and volleyball and run track and cross country.
She said additional tests conducted after she enrolled at Creighton indicated her heart rate was slower than normal, but an EKG revealed a premature heart beat.
“They said my heart beats normal but there is a little thump in between,” she said. “When it acts up, my heart rate gets really fast. That’s when I get the chest pains and shortness of breath.
“After all the tests, they never gave me a reason not to play. They say I’m not at risk, and it’s just something that fluctuates.”
Janning’s condition didn’t keep her from becoming Minnesota’s Miss Basketball last spring. She scored 3,587 points in a career that she began as a seventh-grader, and she set a state record by making 458 3-pointers.
After a slow start at Creighton (15-4), Janning has emerged as one of the Bluejays’ best players. She heads into Saturday’s game at Drake second on the team in scoring with an 11.7 average despite not starting a game. She also ranks second with 39 3-pointers and is third with 43 assists.
Flanery said had he known about Janning’s condition during the recruiting process, it wouldn’t have changed his thinking about trying to persuade her to come to Creighton.
“As good of a player as she is,” Flanery said, “it wouldn’t have affected our recruitment of her.”
Janning said after her last series of tests that doctors have told her to watch what she eats and drinks. That means cutting back on the chocolate she loves and watching her consumption of drinks that contain caffeine. She laughed when asked about how her parents have handled the condition.
“My mom worries, but that’s mom’s job,” she said. “My dad is like, ‘You’re fine.’ My family and the people that watched me play in high school are used to it.”
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