Of all the things Hannah Daigle thought she’d be working on this season, her stat-keeping skills weren’t one of them.
But a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee she suffered in July kept the standout Millville High School soccer player sidelined for what will be her entire sophomore year.
“It’s horrible. You just sit there,” Daigle said. “It’s great being able to watch the team and trying to help them. But watching, if we’re down or tied, and knowing you can’t help them, it’s terrible.”
The Thunderbolts were hit especially hard with torn ACLs this fall. Fellow sophomore and returning starting goalie McKenzie Taylor tore her knee ligament in March, and just returned to practice last week after seven months on the mend.
“I was so happy the whole entire weekend leading up to it, I was just bouncing off the walls,” Taylor said. “Before, I had never been out of soccer for even two weeks, so seven months, it just built up. I wasn’t even nervous. A lot of people are nervous when they come back from an ACL, but that stuff doesn’t bother me.”
Millville has had a solid season so far, going 9-4-1, but doing so without two top returners makes many around the program wonder, ‘What if?'”
“It’s a huge blow to the team,” coach Brian Sloan said. “Any time you lose two starters in addition to the girls that have graduated, it’s going to affect your program. And the fact that we lose our keeper and our leading scorer is an additional blow. If you lose starters period, it’s not good. But if you lose two key players, it’s not easy to replace them.”
Daigle was a much-hyped player who finished last season with 13 goals and established herself as one of the most talented players in the Cape-Atlantic League, if not South Jersey. She was especially upset about facing the fact that she’d lose a year of playing for Millville.
“I went down and I looked at my dad and I was like, ‘All I want to do is play high school and now I can’t,'” Daigle said.
Sloan knew Daigle was poised for great things after breaking out of her shell last fall.
“The way she finished, I was expecting big things and I think she was too,” Sloan said. “You saw her really start to become that player that you really want her to be. To have a freshman have a season like that, you had to look forward to the following year.”
Instead of taking free kicks and finishing corners, Daigle is at physical therapy three-to-four times a week. She comes to home games and makes as many practices as she can attend around her therapy schedule. She recently was allowed to remove the brace, which she had decorated to say, “Millville Thunderbolts.”
With each passing step in her rehab, she checks in with her close friend, Taylor, who is just months removed from the same struggles. Taylor went through therapy three days a week for four months and saw her targeted return date bounce from six-to-nine months and back to seven.
“I turned to her for everything, every little detail I have, I go to her and ask her if it’s normal or if I’m going to tear it again,” Daigle said. “You feel a lot of weird things.”
Both players suffered their injuries to their left knees while playing club soccer. Both incidents happened during practice. They also both admit to being less flexible than they should be.
“I never took stretching very seriously,” Daigle said.
As elementary as it may sound, stretching is key in helping to prevent injuries such as torn ACLs.
“It can definitely help,” Millville athletic trainer Dan Richter said. “The more prepared your body is, the better off you are.”
Sloan wanted to do everything in his power to prevent losing any players again. He has stressed the need to stretch and work out properly. He even started a yoga program with the team during the offseason. Richter said there are other training regimens and advanced warmup techniques designed to help lower the risk of significant knee injuries, but nothing works 100 percent.
“It is an issue,” Richter said. “If you strengthen it and learn how to do different things … you’re definitely decreasing your risk of injury.”
Females are more susceptible to knee injures because of body type and weight distribution over the knees.
“Guys tend to have even quad and hamstring strength,” Richter said. “Girls tend to have stronger hamstrings and weaker quads. Also the angle of the hips to their knees.”
Richter also said as girls’ sports have seen increased intensity, athletes’ bodies are still catching up.
“The original issue was they weren’t getting their knees and stuff strong enough,” Richter said. “Girls were taking their sports to a higher level and they weren’t ready for the increased intensity.”
The good news for athletes is that re-injury risk is actually low.
“Nowadays, they usually come back better,” Richter said.
Taylor is back now, although her role moving forward is still undefined. Daigle will need to wait until next year, but by then, she should be up to speed.