The date in late October is clearly circled on Abbey Fleming’s calendar, and she is getting closer and closer to the day.
Fleming is ready for her 18-month appointment, so that she can stop wearing the knee brace that has bothered her since tearing her ACL in spring of 2014.
“I am definitely looking forward to getting rid of the brace,” she said. “It is uncomfortable. I feel like it limits me sometimes, and there is always some type of problem. I just had to get a new brace because the last one was pushing on my patella. One was rubbing on the back of my knee. It always seems to be something.”
After a standout freshman season that was just a glimpse of her potential on the field for the following three years, Fleming was forced to miss all but 15 minutes of her sophomore season rehabbing to get back on the field.
She was playing with the Lobos (a club soccer team out of Memphis) when the tear occurred.
“I had gone skiing the weekend before and tweaked it,” Fleming said. “The next practice, I went to plant, and the knew went out of place. I had surgery last April.”
Fleming went to one of the best doctors in the area for the surgery, as she dealt with the orthpedic surgeon who also works with the Memphis Grizzlies.
After the surgery, she always seemed to beat the expected next step dates quicker than most people.
“I was on crutches for three weeks,” Fleming said. “Usually, it takes four weeks.
“Once I was off the crutches, I went to physical therapy three times a week, and on the other days I was in the gym on my own working out. My doctor said that I wouldn’t be ready in six months, and he has only released one other person in six months, but I became the second.”
Fleming said that work wasn’t easy, but she knew she had to get through the struggles for the chance to get back on the field for the Lady Bruins.
“One of the frustrating parts was the test,” she said. “You were seat belted into a chair, and you kicked while it measured how hard you kick and how hard you pull back. Each leg had to be within so much of a percentage of each other. I would think that I was ready and felt good, and then the test would show that the legs aren’t 50 percent of each other.”
USJ was one of the favorites to win the Division II-A state championship last season, but Fleming was forced to sit most of it on the bench watching her team.
“It was hard to watch, especially because I had grown up with many of the girls,” she said. “I grew up next door to Lauren Pitcairn, so we had been friends since we were five.”
Fleming was given the chance to play the final 15 minutes of USJ’s semifinal match against University School of Nashville as USJ coach Paul Conway was searching for a chance to tie it up.
“I was glad to play in that game,” Fleming said. “That was Lauren’s last game playing soccer, and it was my first game back.
“That loss just motivated me to want to work harder.”
The Lady Bruins graduated a large portion of last year’s team, so there were questions on how strong the team would be.
But over the last two weeks, USJ has proven that it is again ready to compete for a state championship. The Lady Bruins beat Lexington, Jackson Christian and Madison two weeks ago, and then they went 2-1 in the tough Ladies’ Championship Tournament.
“We lost a lot [of players], but that just meant that we needed more people to step up,” Fleming said. “I was especially excited about the win over Jackson Christian because we tied last year. We knew that if we worked hard, we could beat them. But when we beat them like we did, we knew that we were actually good. It showed us that we were going to be OK.”
So this team’s goal is still the same that it has been for the last decade — get to the state tournament and compete for a state title.
“Of course, I want to win a state championship,” Fleming said. “We have talent.”
The first step in the route to state comes Thursday when the Lady Bruins play their toughest district opponent, St. George’s, on the road.
Michael Odom, 425-9754