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Canistota’s Chase Merrill overcomes back pain to play hoops

“Going through it all, I wouldn’t give it up for a second, if they told me I wouldn’t get to go to the State B’s,” said Merrill, whose Hawks play Aberdeen Christian at 5 p.m. today at Wachs Arena.

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Canistota's Chase Merrill, right, looks to make a pass against White River's Colbe Scott on Saturday at the Hanson Classic. The Hawks are No. 4 in this week's Class B poll.

ABERDEEN -- Chase Merrill’s back pain has forced him to undergo surgery, physical therapy and rigorous pre-game stretches.

But it’s all about to be worth it.

The Canistota High School boys basketball player was diagnosed with spondylolysis, which is a stress fracture in the vertebrae, according to webmd.com. The condition is common in young athletes who participate in sports that involve repeated stress on the lower back.

It’s been a two-year journey for Merrill, who first noticed the pain the summer of 2019, later had surgery and has missed the past two football seasons. However, he’s not missing this week’s State B boys basketball tournament and that makes it all worth it.

“Going through it all, I wouldn’t give it up for a second, if they told me I wouldn’t get to go to the State B’s,” said Merrill, whose Hawks play Aberdeen Christian at 5 p.m. today at Wachs Arena.

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Merrill’s back pain flared up during his junior baseball season in 2019. After a doctor visit revealed he fractured the L4 and L5 -- the two lowest vertebrae of the lumbar spine -- he was instructed to take 3 1/2 months off.

It was the start of a long and exhausting process.

“It’s been the most frustrating thing I’ve ever gone through,” Merrill said. “It’s been really hard at times to just understand why it keeps happening.”

After missing football, he returned for the basketball season. However, the pain lingered and he still played throughout the season. Merrill and the Hawks qualified for the State B tournament, but it was canceled due to the pandemic.

After the season, an MRI revealed he fractured the L4 and L5 again. Two screws were put in his back during surgery and he was forced to miss more activities.

“I couldn’t play baseball or summer basketball or anything,” Merrill said. “They told me don’t play football because they don’t want me to break it again. So I didn’t play football and then this basketball season, it’s felt great.”

He’s played in 21 of Canistota’s 23 games this season, while he’s averaging a team-high 17.3 points per game. But behind the scenes, Merrill goes through pre-game stretches for an hour and a half before each game.

“He’s really battled back from adversity,” Canistota coach Pat Jolley said. “You have to give him a lot of credit because that’s difficult for anybody at any age, if you’ve got issues with the back and now he’s playing basketball.”

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Merrill credits his coaches, teammates and family for guiding him through the trying episode. He also praised Canistota chiropractor Ryan Ortman for his expertise along the way.

“I am thankful for all the people that have been there for me throughout the entire time,” Merrill said. “Without them, I don’t think I would have gotten through it and still be playing basketball.”

Merrill will play basketball next season at Dakota Wesleyan University. He plans to major in either physical therapy or accounting.

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