"I've never seen anything like it before" - The oral history of Emily Peterson's 5.5 month return from ACL surgery
On September 20th, Emily Peterson returned to the starting lineup for the Minnesota Gopher Soccer program just five and a half months after tearing her ACL on March 13th. This is the oral history of an incredible athlete and the supporting cast around her that made her recovery possible.
SARAH: So we get there after a crazy commute to the field. Of course the turf is just really not ideal, as well. The game’s going ok. I remember Petey going down. She was across the field. I couldn’t see exactly what had happened. But Petey is one of those people who had never really come into the training room for anything. And she’s tough. So if she’s laying on the field you know it’s not a good thing.
COREY: So you see her go down and you think “oh, it’s Petey. She’ll get up.”
MADDIE: I was actually playing right next to her.
SARAH: I went over to her. She was kind of in shock. Kind of emotional. And says “I tore my ACL.” She knew right away. So I took a look at it, and sure enough it was pretty loose when I tested it. I told her “if you think you tore your ACL and it’s loose to me you probably did tear your ACL.” And she got really emotional and the first thing she said was “it’s going to take so long and so much work for me to get back.”
EMILY: I knew that it happened. Right when it happened. Because it was a feeling I’ve never felt before. So at that point I was just kind of thinking about all the work that was going to go into it and how hard it was going to be to come back.
COREY: For me, at lot of it at first is you feel absolutely horrible for her. And you feel horrible for the family, but mostly her.
PAULA: Our family has quite an extensive history with ACLs so I was probably better prepared. Kent and I embraced Emily as she came off the field and Stephanie was the first coach off the field and immediately came up to the three of us and said whatever Emily needs to get back, whether it be redshirting or making it back by fall she will have it. Corey came up and hugged us as did Sarah and SJ.
KENT: Stefanie came up to us right away and said “if she can’t come back next season we’ll redshirt her and she can play a fifth year.” And Emily didn’t want to hear that. She wanted to be there her senior year and finish out her career with her fellow seniors.
MADDIE: Everyone was just kind of in shock. Because Petey is so pure and such an MVP for our team. For that to happen to such an important person, it’s just like “what do we do?”
COREY: There are so many variables that come into play but a lot of it is just emotions.
MADDIE: The conditions weren’t great. We hadn’t eaten much. We hadn’t drank a lot of water. We had to warm up super quick.
EMILY: Everything leading into it was just a bad feeling. I said it. I said “someone is going to get hurt on this field.” The turf was really bad and it was kind of bad feelings going into the game.
MADDIE: It was kind of eerie because before the game we were sitting next to each other on the bus and she looks at me and says “someone is going to get hurt today.”
SARAH: It was a little bit of a perfect storm that day. We were in Rome and spent the whole day touring around the Coliseum. There were so many people around that things took a lot longer than we expected so we actually had to go directly from the Coliseum on the bus through traffic to try to get to our game. And on the way there we knew we weren’t going to have enough time to do our full warmups. Conditions just weren’t exactly as we would have wanted.
STEFANIE: You’re on turf. It’s not great turf. There’s not great lighting. And you’re hoping that it’s just a scare.
EMILY: I almost pushed it back because I didn’t want to deal with it while we were in Italy especially. Because I was there to enjoy it. And I didn’t want to face reality but I knew once I got home I was going to go to the doctor and I was going to get hit with reality once I got back there.
SARAH: Her toughness rang through the entire rest of the trip. It was only the second or third day of the trip. I did have a knee brace in my kit, thank god. But I didn’t have crutches. I didn’t know if she’s going to swell up a ton. I didn’t know if she was going to be able to walk comfortably. Our tour guide and I ran through Rome to go to this little medical shop to buy some really crappy crutches for Petey. So I get her these crutches, and she’s barely using them the rest of the trip, even though we’re walking something like six miles a day. It just shows how tough she was.
STEFANIE: When Sarah says this is what we’re looking at, you still don’t know what the extent is. You don’t know what else is damaged. You don’t know if it’s isolated. You don’t know if it’s fully gone. All those things. And we weren’t going to have those answers until we get back over here. So the rest of Italy was about how can we help her enjoy the rest of the trip and not think about that piece of it.
KENT: We just tried to console her but not say too much. Because if you mentioned anything about her redshirting she got upset. She didn’t want to hear that.
SARAH: She seemed to go through the early stages of the grief process really quickly. She had accepted that it happened and moved on to what’s going to happen next.
EMILY: I pretty much at that point made the decision that I’m not going to make this about me. I’m not going to feel sorry for myself because there’s nothing I can change about it. It happened and I’ll deal with it later.
JULIE: The next initial part that goes through your head is you realize holy cow the recovery they have ahead of them.
THAT IT HAPPENED TO PETEY
MADDIE: Our entire class was devastated. At that point we all felt like we would have rather torn our own ACL rather than she tear hers. We were in shock for so long. The five of us are really close and we all know how amazing she is, how good of a team mate she is, how hard she worked to earn her spot, the fact that she’d just got Captain - it was kind of like “of all people it had to happen to, why her?”
EMILY: Those kind of thoughts went through my mind. Like, why me? And going into my senior season and having a season behind me where I was playing almost every minute. This is going to be the final hurrah and it’s going to be a fun season. So it was just a lot of anger about that. And just trying to understand why. Why did it have to happen to me, someone who has never had knee problems. I never had issues with that. I’ve never had too serious of injuries.
STEFANIE: When you’re somebody who does everything right, you bust your butt, you’re super fit, you take care of everything on and off the field - sometimes when a big injury happens is why me and not so and so?
KENT: We’re kind of on cloud nine when she’s doing so well and just had a great junior year. So we’re all just looking forward for her to have a great senior year being captain and having a great season.
STEFANIE: Specifically, with this one, the hardest thing was: here’s a returning, starting center back - which is a critical role. She’s super respected by her teammates and had been named captain heading into this next year. And you’re sitting there saying to yourself “ok, based on what we’ve been building towards, if she’s out, what adjustments do we make at this point.”
COREY: She’s the rock of the defense. Cool. Calm. Composed. Very smart technically and tactically. But also very strong on the ball. She didn’t have to say it. She just did it. She wasn’t vocal. But she just let her actions speak for themself. She would never get beat. She was always in the right position. She would always bust her butt. So it’s pretty tough when you lose a player like that. Especially when you get voted captain. And the coach wants you to have a voice. But you’re not playing. So it’s that weird feeling of “are they going to listen to me? Are they not going to listen to me because I’m not playing? Are they going to respect my voice?”
PAULA: It was a roller coaster of where am I at on this team? What impact am I having?
MADDIE: It’s kind of tough because we were already scrapping together a back line because we had lost Tori and Gaff. So there was already two positions open. Then we left for Italy, Petey gets injured, and now there are three positions wide open. And we were kind of scrambling to figure out who was going to step up in to that big role.
STEFANIE: So to get it from “why me?” to how can I take this as an opportunity to get better and stronger when I do come back is an absolute key.
THAT IT HAPPENED TO THE GOPHERS
JULIE: Sarah, the athletic trainer, is very good. Stefanie Golan, too. I think they’re all on the right track on all that. That’s why you don’t typically see ACL injuries coming out of the Gophers every year.
STEFANIE: One thing that gives me a different perspective is I experienced an injury in college that kept me off the field for 18 months and 3 surgeries before I could be out there again. And kind of seeing that and going through that and having so many ups and downs throughout that process - and also that there was a disconnect from one end of the program to another that contributed to the feeling within it.
SARAH: It’s way less common for us. I think most of that has to do with how meticulously the coaches buy into the sports science aspect of the sport. We haven’t had an ACL tear in years. Whereas we’ve had something like four ACL tears on opposing teams while we’re playing them on the field - commonly non-contact tears. And it’s pretty common for an opponent to have multiple people on crutches or in a knee brace. Not just ACLs, but major injuries as a whole, we haven’t really had to have people sit out games or lose playing time almost at all.
COREY: All I’m trying to do is do everything I can to put the girls and coach and everyone in a good position so we can win games on weekends and we can be healthy doing it. Because when you play college soccer, availability is going to be your biggest thing. And you have players available then you’re going to be in a better position than if those players aren’t available.
JULIE: Injuries follow coaches around. So even if one coach leaves a club and goes to the next club, injuries follow them around. So these coaches who think “oh it’s just bad luck”, if you actually look at the pattern - it’s been in the British Journal of Sports Medicine - these patterns will follow the coaches around.
STEFANIE: We think about it a lot because we hear teams - a lot - talking about this person’s out, that person’s out. There’s certain programs where ACL tears happen quite a bit.
JULIE: You look at other programs and it’s ACL injuries year after year after year. And you wonder “what the heck?”
SARAH: A lot of teams are superstitious about lifting in-season versus out of season. We do both, but we do it in a smart way. And the biggest thing is the catapult data that we track through our heart rate straps and GPS trackers that monitor the load of each player as well as collectively as a team. It’s shown that there is a direct correlation between how fatigued you are and how easy it is to tear your ACL. So we try to prevent them from getting to that level of fatigue while still having them be able to prepare to perform at a high intensity and long duration during games.
STEFANIE: It’s been interesting because where the trend has come on as you’re tracking training loads, utilizing the GPS data - we didn’t have that when I was going through my playing career a long time ago. Every week was an incredible grind. Tuesdays were going to suck. They were going to suck. You’d have a really long training session with grueling fitness afterwards. Wednesday was going to be a little bit better, but not much. And then Thursday was your day where you were like “uh, finally there’s no fitness.” And you get to do this, you get to do this. There’s something to that piece, from the mentality standpoint and developing a grittiness and getting them to bond together based on the incredible amount of work it takes to be successful in that environment. And there’s a lot of validity to having a periodization plan where you stay fresh, you stay healthier. It does make it extremely challenging from a coaching standpoint. Because you are limited to how much you can train so you have to be very efficient in your training. And there’s times where you have a lot of different pieces you want to fix and you have to pick one. Because you don’t have time and enough opportunity to fix it all. So, from a coaching standpoint, because we’ve been as healthy and as fit as we’ve been going this direction and because our staff as a whole work so well together and we have a great deal of trust with one another - and there is a great deal of fluidity to it. Just because this day says one thing, like it’s a medium intensity day with medium low volume, if there’s something we’ve got to hit on it’s “how can we adjust this week to get what we need.” And because Corey is really willing to work with us from that standpoint - not from a soccer standpoint but a physiological standpoint - we’ve got to blend it all together and I think we’ve effectively been able to do that.
COREY: She kind of gives me the freedom and she trusts me to help periodize practice and allows me to have an input. It allows me to have that voice where I can always let them know what I’m seeing and where I think the team is from an overall standpoint. And also on an individual standpoint as far as how are certain individuals handling load? Do we need to do something different? Do we need to modify practice? How are we going to set this up? It’s sort of taking a true holistic approach where they take in everything.
SARAH: I think most teams use tracking systems, but I don’t know that they do this level of planning with the data necessarily. They can retroactively look back to see if a lot of people got injured during this time what were we doing. As opposed to let’s prevent people from getting injured by doing this.
JULIE: Corey Peterson, he is very good. And he is very good in a lot of ways. Not just in terms of the strength component and managing load - he’s got those guys hooked up to GPS and heart rate monitors and all this other stuff - but he’s managing how much stress is being put on their body on a daily basis.
SARAH: It’s extremely calculated. Even to the point of how far we are traveling, what elevation are we playing in, what kind of stress levels the girls are experiencing academically and it takes into account which part of the season we’re in as well.
STEFANIE: I always feel like we are one of the most fit and healthy teams that we see. Think about the fact that Molly Fiedler has started every single game since she’s been here. Every single game. Emily Heslin has played in every single game she’s been here. That doesn’t happen. That does not happen often where you have kids who go through their entire career with the opportunity to play in, and start, that amount of games. It’s crazy.
HEADING INTO SURGERY
SARAH: An ACL tear is terrible no matter what, and it comes with a great time commitment for return to play. But she didn’t really swell up, she didn’t lose range of motion or daily function. The only thing was that when you went to test her ACL there was no end-point. And having no collateral damage - no MCL sprain or meniscus tear or anything like that - she was pretty perfect in that realm, too.
JULIE: A lot of times it can speed up the process a little bit more because if you’ve got this bone bruising and these other things you have to respect the healing of some of that other stuff.
PAULA: I was pretty calm because I knew what was ahead. She had no pain at the initial onset. She had little to no swelling.
SARAH: She was using her quad while walking, albeit not perfectly.
JULIE: Typically what the surgeon is going to look at is a clinical exam of does the joint has laxity in it. The ACL, is it no longer intact? What other kind of damage is in the knee? Because a lot of times it’s not just the ACL.
SARAH: ACLs, you can repair them a couple of different ways. So what’s interesting about Petey is that she has a family history of ACL tears as well. So I think her sister had torn her’s twice, and her mom had torn hers as well. We ended up using a patellar tendon graft for Petey because for an elite level soccer player especially, there’s a higher failure rate among hamstring and cadaver grafts when compared to the “bone patellar bone” graft.
JULIE: They’ll also look at “what is this person trying to get back to?” If it’s a Big Ten soccer player that’s one thing. If it was an older adult who just wanted to bike, maybe they’re a cyclist, maybe you don’t have to repair it.
EMILY: At that point it was just let’s get this rolling. I already know it’s torn let’s just get on this right away.
PAULA: She was determined. She had it in her head to come back. And we just let her take the reigns and do what she needed to do. Because if Kent and I would have opposed it it would have been detrimental to her.
MADDIE: We were roommates so we spent a lot of time together. Me and April’s approach was to distract her a little bit. Let’s joke. Let’s get ice cream. Let’s just be normal. Because at that point she was panicking. We were all panicking. We were just hoping for a really good surgery.
PAULA: I think throughout her journey it was pretty dark for her. She was was pretty angry about it. And she didn’t understand why it had to happen.
EMILY: After the doctor’s appointment I was still just really angry. I looked at our calendar and thought “ok, if I make it back in like six months I’ll have six games left.” When he said 8-9 months I was like “no way.”
ON THE MEND
KENT: When we came home I took care of her all week. I took a week off of work and was her nurse all week. Every day we went down to see Sarah and I’d try to stay on top of my work, because I still had stuff going on, so it was a big week. And I don’t know if she told you but I actually ended up getting shingles in my one eye that week. So I went blind in my left eye. So by the time Paula got home, Emily was laid up with a bad leg and I had a patch on my eye so we were kind of a rough pair.
JULIE: The first ten days you’re really working on getting swelling down, getting motion, and getting your quad firing again.
KENT: She and I went down to the U everyday and saw Sarah and she would do a few little exercises and we’d wrap her knee. We did that for weeks. We would come home and I would wait on her. Whatever she needed.
SARAH: First couple weeks were focused on swelling and pain control, regaining range of motion, and proper muscular activation. Things like that. We actually got her on the bike pretty early to work on range of motion. She did extremely well with that and it was a familiar device that she used when she was healthy, so that was something we focused on to keep building upon early on.
JULIE: Pretty much that first four weeks you’re trying to get full range of motion, you’re trying to get normal walking, getting that swelling down, getting that quad firing, and at least starting to get into trying to manage body weight with different types of exercises like squats and all kinds of stuff.
COREY: All of that stuff is basically going to start with Sarah in the rehab room. Can we get that extension back? Probably going through some range of motion. Some very basic stuff but all of that is going to start with Sarah in the training room.
KENT: I guess I was a little surprised they were starting to do stuff right away.
JULIE: People used to treat it more gently and then they realized, oh we should probably test the difference between those who do follow the restrictions versus those who don’t follow the restrictions. And they realized there wasn’t much of a difference, so they called it an accelerated rehab protocol. That's not to say you should disregard restrictions but early rehab is definitely more proactive than it used to me.
EMILY: SJ and Krystle would do workouts with me at the beginning. So just the people I had around me like Corey pushing me every day. He individualized my workouts so much that it really made it easy for me. And I think that’s what made it so easy this summer. Just how supportive he was and I knew I could talk to him about anything. And Sarah too. So whenever I was stressed about anything I could talk to them. It was all done with this end goal in mind and every step got us a little bit closer.
COREY: Mine and her mantra the whole time was “we’re going to focus on one day at a time.” Do not get worried about the big picture. Don’t start thinking “oh I’m only two months in” or “I’m only four months in” or “god I still have a month and a half”. It’s “I need to focus on dominating one day at a time, one training session at a time.” No matter what it is you’re doing, it’s about getting that one percent better each time.
EMILY: So I would bring it up sometimes to Corey and say “I’ve heard some people come back at five and a half months” and he’d be like “no, we need to focus on right now. Don’t even think about that. We need to focus on every day. Just think about your training right now. That is what’s going to get you to the end.”
JULIE: It’s like a video game. You have to test out of the level you’re at. And the next level gets harder. And you’re still stuck in the video game so you can’t always see your progress. But if you meet the criteria at the level before you move on to the next level, which is more complex. You shouldn’t be just leveling up based on the amount of time you played the game. You should be leveling out based on showing you’re competent to pass out of the next level.
MADDIE: I was in there with her for probably three months because my injury was kind of big. So I watched her progress from barely being able to bend her knee to getting cleared to jump. We were in there at the same time a lot and her work outs were really hard. A lot of upper body stuff. She’d do band stuff. I’d watch her do progression jumping. Jumping off a box. Balance on a bounce ball. It was very minimal movement at first and once she finally got cleared to jump, that is when everything really picked up.
EMILY: It’s hard because you’re just waiting for that next step. Like, when am I going to be able to run? When am I going to be able to touch the ball? So it really was just patience through it. And knowing that every little detail of the workout is going to matter.
BACK ON THE HORSE
SARAH: One of the things we started at week four with Petey was the compex unit. It’s like an electrical stimulation unit that you attach it to motor points on the muscle and it helps activate the muscle. Corey found this really cool compex protocol where you hook it up to both legs, and there’s a rest period where your muscles are involuntary twitching and a work period where it intensifies and your muscles strongly contract, and you continue to repeat those for about 25 minutes. The first level of the protocol is performed while sitting on a box, then it advances into hovering in a squat position.
MADDIE: It never looked like she was wavering. She just did her best and asked if she could do more. It was always what else can I do. I want to take the next step. Because that’s how she got to five and a half. It was “ok I got to here today, I’m going to do a little bit more tomorrow.”
SARAH: Then the protocol progresses to using it while on the bike and when it’s contracting you sprint on the bike and when it’s resting you do easy revolutions. Then you go backwards. Then you stand up. It was incredibly difficult, but I think it helped quite a bit. Not just to maintain the range of motion for her knee but also to build up her functional quad strength a lot more quickly than most people are able to.
JULIE: Athletes get into a really boring phase after about the first four weeks. And we’re really trying to push these athletes to 9 months as much as we can. So at four weeks, it’s kind of like taking a trip across the country. The first few hours of the trip you’re thinking “oh this is cool” and you can see all this progress. Then all of a sudden you get stuck in the middle of the US and all you see is farm land, farm land, farm land and it gets really boring. And for a lot of people that boredom is really challenging because they want to be back with their friends. They want to be back on the field. It’s just this really boring part of the rehab but you have to stick with it because the work you do in the boring phase is going to set you up for the things you can do later on.
EMILY: I would talk to him about that. I would ask “what’s the point of even doing this or going hard right now?” And it just always came back to you never know. And I didn’t want it to bite me in the butt. I didn’t want a day to go wasted. I didn’t want any workout I do to not be working toward what could have potentially meant coming back at five and a half months. And I didn’t want to regret anything I did at the beginning of my process.
COREY: Sarah was in on the progression so she could run it. We worked together to know these are the days she’s doing X, Y, and Z and these are the days I can work with her. This is what she’s doing in the weight room. This is what she’s doing in the training room. So we’re always on the same page as far as what she was doing and how we were doing it. It was a collaborative piece. We would meet almost every day and talk almost every day so we knew “how are we doing this? How are we going to work together? And how are we going to set this up?”
EMILY: Even when I would start running, if I skipped a day of running that would slow down my progression that many days which could lead into two other things being a week later, and then two weeks later. And I didn’t want to regret anything I did at the beginning that would affect me down the road. Because I knew how precious my time was.
STEFANIE: One of the things we were very intentional about was helping her maintain her voice and that leadership presence as much as possible even though she wasn’t on the field. And that takes a lot.
SARAH: There was a month or two where she was only able to run, do some juggling, and some stationary passing during captain’s practice. She was still working on things like getting stronger with Corey, landing mechanics, proprioception and all of that off of the field, but on the field that was all she was able to do for a really long time. The tough part is when you’re moving fine and you’re starting to look and feel normal, but your graft is extremely vulnerable and you have to stay within the same parameters of what you’re allowed to do for a seemingly long period of time.
JULIE: When the surgeon puts the graft in the knee, it will actually get weaker for a period of time before it gets stronger. In between that, the athlete can be walking around and starting to feel better, and they’re viewing themselves externally as better, but they don’t realize the graft is weaker.
KENT: For me, I wasn’t worried. She’s not reckless. She’s a very thoughtful person. She would work hard but she wouldn’t do things she wasn’t told to be doing. She’s a very good patient.
COREY: I wanted her to understand why I was doing everything I was doing. Why are we doing things in the weight room the way we’re doing it? Everything in the progression based model we have: why are we doing it? I wanted her to understand the reason behind it, the science behind it, so then she could ask questions and then she understands why we’re going it.
SARAH: Petey always wanted to know exactly what was going on with her knee at every phase of recovery. I made her this informational sheet with the phases of graft healing after ACL reconstruction to show for instance that even though you feel really good right now, this is the most vulnerable time for your graft where you have higher chances of re-tearing it doing something stupid in daily life, or doing rehab incorrectly, or doing too much.
COREY: That’s important because then she’s going to buy-in more once she’s understands why I’m doing it. But when you have a progression based model it also becomes a competition for them because they know hey if I keep progressing I’m going to keep advancing. If you own it, and you dominate it, I’m not going to hold you back. I’m going to keep moving you. From level to level.
JULIE: These rehab protocols do have a little bit a of a timeline and a chronological order to them but you really have to make sure that people are making decisions based on criteria. I know around 12 weeks I’ll want to get them to run again. But they have to demonstrate a test on muscle strength and movement quality before they’re able to.
COREY: Towards the end, you’re just trying to progress. And you’re trying to put them in situations so that can be as reactive and as sport specific as possible, so that when they get into practice it’s almost like they’ve done it.
DO I STILL HAVE IT?
EMILY: Of course I was a little nervous about “well, did I lose it?” Like, “do I really still have it?” Just the technical ability and everything. So getting back out there was really exciting. Just celebrating the next step. One step closer. Corey and Sarah would say “one step closer to the next progression. One step closer to being cleared.”
MADDIE: The first time she got cleared to juggle was at one of our captain’s practices and she knocked out like 500 quick juggles the first time picking up a ball.
SARAH: From there she was cleared to start running again which she was super excited about. She did like a really slow return to run protocol and at that time we had her start juggling again. And I think she was really surprised that “I can actually juggle again and this is just as easy as it was in March when I stopped doing it.” Muscle memory came back really quickly for her.
MADDIE: Juggling in the beginning. Then passing. Then moving up to dribbling with the ball. Then moving up to sprints and dribbling and shooting. That was kind of the progression of it. And for all of us it was like “she looks great. She looks the same. Her touch is probably better than ours right now!” Every time we saw her it looked like she’d never gotten injured. That’s how good she looked.
COREY: At four months she beat my fitness test. Which I’ve never seen before or seen anyone even come close to. So then it becomes a competition. Because how the progression is set up is if you can do that stuff at the end, you should be ready to play. You just have to get there.
HOW SHE DID IT
JULIE: There’s research out there that says if you wait 9 months versus 6 months, you’re going to have a much lower rate of reinjury. But if she knows she’s going to take a risk - and there’s always going to be a risk going back to sports, the only way you don’t ever have an ACL injury is you don’t every participate. As long as this has been explained to her, then it’s OK. For every one month delay after 6 months up to 9 months in return to play, the injury rate is reduced by 51 percent. But they also know that you have an 84 percent decrease in the risk of reinjuring if you meet four big criteria. So the people who are hitting all these criteria - and I’m sure Corey and Sarah are using all these objective measures on top of managing the load. So if she’s hitting on all that stuff and testing out on all that then she’s doing everything she can control except the chronological part of it.
PAULA: Throughout the process I was very worried because it was very clear that she had it in her head that she was coming back. And Kent and I know Emily well enough to know what you can and can’t say. So we just stepped back and allowed Emily to have full independence with her doctors and her trainers. Is that good or bad? I don’t know. I felt very disconnected at times. There were times where I wanted to reach out to her and get the meat and potatoes of what she was doing. But I must have instinctively known that wouldn’t have worked.
EMILY: I guess a lot of people are just surprised. A lot of people are saying “well, don’t push it too far. Don’t go too fast where you’ll get reinjured.” But I just go back to all the stuff I’ve been doing. People aren’t with their trainer every day. They’re not doing the scientific stuff that Corey has about ACLs. It’s like what Corey says where “every body is different and every athlete is different.” You can’t really have a set program for someone. You kind of have a set of things you need to do but if you’re doing something well you should move on to that next thing.
JULIE: We could all go around and not play sports and not have ACL injuries but our lives are going to be awfully boring, too.
SARAH: Most of her rapid succession in recovery came because she worked her tail off. I’ve worked with people who have been coming back from an ACL and it’s like pulling teeth to get them to come in for rehab and workouts. Especially when they have a crazy summer schedule.
COREY: When you’re talking about work ethic and dedication, it’s truly attacking every single opportunity to get better with intent and purpose. So, whether it be in the training room, the weight room, whatever it is you’re doing everything with purpose and intent. So you’re not just going through the motions. So when you come in and do that for everything, you’re going to put yourself in a good position.
SARAH: Corey and I are extremely accommodating to our players and we’ll do whatever works best for them, but Petey was in here at 6AM either doing rehab or working out. Then she would go to her internship from 8-5. Then she would meet me either in the training room or at the field to do more rehab. Just doing absolutely everything she could, plus eating right and sleeping enough.
COREY: No offense, but me personally I would want to be out hanging out with friends. Maybe I’ll stay out late one night so “oh I can’t go to rehab tomorrow.” No. She never once cancelled anything.
KENT: I don’t know. I guess in my mind I always thought it was going to be 8-9 months. And I thought she was just going to have to face the facts. But I wasn’t going to talk about that with her because it would just upset her. So I was just thinking eventually she was going to have to give it time to recovery and heal. So I was pretty surprised she was able to come back that quickly. She really felt like Corey was key to her recovery. He really worked hard with her. I mean, now she looks stronger than she ever has. She looks faster and her legs look stronger. To me she looks like, physically, she’s in better shape than she ever has been.
STEFANIE: I’ve had a lot of people ask “are you surprised?” And, no. Was it ever the expectation? No. We always error on the side of the worst case scenario. But her inner drive, her commitment, how much she cares about this program and her teammates - she’s always been somebody who is super steady and consistent in everything they bring. You’re talking about a kid when we recruited her, and we offered her a chance to come be a part of the University of Minnesota soccer program, people are going “her?” We had a lot of people saying “really?” And the reason we brought her in is because of the person, the character, and the competitor she is. You knew, through the recruiting process, exactly what you were going to get out of Emily Peterson. It wasn’t flashy. It didn’t standout to most people. But it stood out to us because of the consistency and most young people are about as inconsistent as they come.
MADDIE: She is extremely intelligent. Probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. And I think that intelligence is what helped her. It’s what makes her such a great soccer player and person. The way she thinks about the game. Her soccer IQ is out of this world. And I think her being able to see five steps ahead really allowed her to go through the process and see “ok, I need to be here at this point, and I need do this to get there.”
SARAH: Not only did she put in all of the effort that she possibly could, not once did she take time to feel bad for herself. It was like the moment she went down on the field she was thinking “ok what’s it going to take to get me back on the field again.”
COREY: Her work ethic and dedication, personally I’ve never seen anything like it before.
SARAH: Yea, she has something totally different.
STEFANIE: For all the times we’ve seen her exceed expectations, this is not a surprise to me at all.
MADDIE: She’s so low key in the best way. If you really meet her and truly get to her core, she’s so kind, so passionate, so unbelievably smart. And so disciplined about everything she does. I’ve never met anyone like her. So fun. So willing to do what’s necessary for the team. Not many people have that characteristic, that selflessness.
PAULA: There is such a culture among the soccer staff - the culture is just incredible. They love these players so much. And they are looking to develop the player as an individual because they know that soccer is not going to be in their life for the rest of their life. I just marvel at the importance they place on the development of the individual. It’s really a special special group. This is a very high D1 level program and I can’t imagine this is the norm everywhere. And you know, Stefanie, she’s at the head of the table. It trickles down from her. And I just have such respect for her as a person. The love that she has for each of these players.
STEFANIE: One of the things I’ve said is “I’m not a doctor, I’m not a medical professional.” That’s not my job. So, we need to make it a priority to have people who are great in that aspect who are easy to work with. Because if we’re all here for the same reasons - which is the student athletes and to give them the best opportunity to succeed - then we’re going to work together and we all want them to be on the field as often as they can.
PAULA: What do I say about Corey? After I watched that video of her recovery, I just said this needs to be patented. Because I don’t what bigger a success story you could witness than what we witnessed with Corey.
STEFANIE: The staff as a whole, across the board, from Corey and Sarah, and Kyle academically - and a new coaching staff coming in - SJ in the spring would jump in a compete with her in things. Everybody did a really great job of continuing to support her and lift her higher.
COREY: You can sit here and talk about the program and all the stuff that we’re doing, but it doesn’t really mean anything if the person is not willing to go to work.
SARAH: And the stuff she was doing was not easy. It’s not easy to watch sometimes when you see her in pain from a difficult workout or fighting through personal struggles in her outside life and still coming in and doing this stuff. And she did all of it and then some.
MADDIE: I don’t think anyone will understand how much it takes.
COREY: At one point, I sent the team a message about “hey you’re complaining about only having three days off? She’s had no days off.” And I sent videos along just so they know some of the stuff she’s doing on their day off. Or when you’re enjoying the fourth of July she’s training. So I don’t want to f-ing hear it.
SARAH: A lot of intensely hard work happened in the training room or the weight room. And nobody gets to see how hard she’s grinded through this stuff. But when they finally get to see it on the field. And how good she looks and how hard she’s always working.
COREY: None of her teammates, besides maybe the seniors, but maybe not even them, truly understand how much she did.
PAULA: But it gave her an opportunity to lead in a different way, and pushed her to develop in ways that may not have happened if she hadn’t gotten injured. I mean she had to become more of a verbal presence because she couldn’t be on the field. Especially with the defensive line.
JULIE: You have all this time now where you can just focus on you. So if you use the opportunity, you should be better than when you got injured. And I believe that. It all depends on how they use the opportunity.
STEFANIE: Can we give her specific roles every session? Is there somebody - especially as you’re working different people into that back line - are there certain individuals that we can have her focused on in the session with specific things that we want her to help them see.
EMILY: Even just the vision. Last year I was told to problem solve more in the moment. And I would see it but I wouldn’t really know how to vocalize it. And that’s one area that I’ve really been able to read on the sideline. Being able to see how the game is going.
COREY: If anything I think this injury helped her become a more vocal leader. And then you add the soccer IQ and the presence on the field and you’ve just created a great leader.
EMILY: I’m not naturally a vocal leader at all. I would talk on the field but even last year we had Tori and she was able to do most of the communication. But now it’s made me even more confident in my voice, just knowing how much of an impact I can have with my voice.
MADDIE: Once she really starts playing a lot of minutes, I feel like teams should be scared. Because she has so much passion. So much need and want to be great. She’s going to be fantastic.
Last week, the Gophers rebounded from three straight losses to drop NDSU 4-0, but things won’t exactly get any easier as they kickoff the conference schedule this weekend. Now that we have a decent sample size, let’s take a deeper look at Minnesota’s squad as they head into the gauntlet of Big Ten play.
First, both the eye test and the stats show that the Gophers are shooting less than they did a year ago. Over the course of last season, they averaged nearly 16 shots per game. This year, that’s dropped to just shy of 12. For a team like Minnesota, the problem isn’t necessarily just that fewer shots mean fewer chances to score. It’s also that the opposing defense doesn’t feel the need to pressure the player with the ball quite as much, because Gophers have been more hesitant to shoot it even when they’re deep in the opposing box. When defends lay back a bit, that clogs the passing lanes and makes it harder for players off the ball to find space with an off-ball run.
That’s contributed to players like April Bockin (who led the country in assists for portions of last season) to hold on to the ball a bit longer. Combined with the hesitancy of some younger players like Patricia Ward to pull the trigger, this has led and already team-focused, pass-first lineup to become almost paralized in the final third. It would be great to see Molly Fiedler and Emily Heslin fire from distance. With a few matches under their belt to build some chemistry, I wouldn’t be surprised if shots start flying a bit more. Who knows? Maybe Makenzie Langdok’s shot from distance against NDSU that put the Gophers on top may in and of itself spur some long distance howlers* (‘Howler’ is a positive term in this space. #PositiveHowler)
There are times when the lack of precision and passing in the final third is made up for with quality chances off the Gophers’ press. But to this point - as might be expected - the press has been inconsistent. The coaching staff was quick to remind the team after a hard fought game against Stanford that when the press is on - as it was that day - they can truly compete and outplay anyone.
The lack of a consistent press and the mix of so many new faces on the back line has led to some quality for opposing offenses. While the Gopher defense suffocated opponents into low quality chances (33.3 percent shots on goal for opponents in 2017), they’ve let a few more clean chances make it to the keeper so far this year (41.7 percent).
Maddie Nielsen has performed pretty well, considering the circumstances (75 percent save percentage vs Kailee Sharp’s 70 percent last year) but there are still plenty of instances where a simple mistake leads to goal that really could have (or should have) saved. Still, Nielsen only just eclipsed ten starts for her career and she has made some nice saves. Going through those moments in the non-conference slate might be a bit of a silver lining. Now it’s on the backline and Nielsen to tighten things up.
For all the talk about how they look on the field, where Minnesota lands in the postseason will largely depend on the numbers (and random people sitting in a room selecting teams, but we can't control them). Last year, they were dangerous. They scored well. They defended well. And they ended up JUST outside of the field for the national tournament.
As they head into Big Ten play, the Gophers look like they’re in decent shape. The preseason poll, current standings, and RPI standings should - combined - show you how hard it is to judge teams part-way through the season. Michigan State has loaded up wins against “cupcakes” so the standings inflate their chances. Purdue was picked in the lower half of the preseason poll but their early results show they may be for real. And with games against Illinois and Northwestern this weekend to finish out their 7 game home stand, Minnesota may in a position to solidify themselves as contenders if they can get some results.
Friday, September 14th at 6PM – Home vs Illinois (Big Ten Plus)
Sunday, September 16th at 1PM – Home vs Northwestern (Big Ten Plus)
The Gophers have now lost three games in a row after falling just short in an impressive battle with top ranked Stanford. The good news? Each of the losses really was a bit unique, and it’s possible the young lineup for Minnesota may come out of non-conference play a bit more grizzled and ready to battle in Big Ten conference play. But first, they have to get past NDSU – and a whole slew of Minnesotans – Friday night.
We talked to Alli Lipsher (Director of Goalkeeping) and Celina Nummerdor (sophomore midfielder) to talk about their careers, how to get things moving in the right direction, and getting ready for NDSU. They were super gracious with their time. Give it a watch and a share!
Minnesota 0, DePaul 1
Thursday, August 30 (Full live tweet thread)
I’m not going to lie to you: there was not much to celebrate from this one. Minnesota generally played OK. But DePaul came in with a game plan and executed the hell out of it. They were incredibly disciplined on defense – including a clear strategy to trap April Bockin with two or three defenders any time she got the ball – and they made the most of a good chance to put themselves on the board.
One silver lining on the night was the welcome home DePaul Head Coach Erin Chastain received. Her name litters the Gopher Soccer record books and we had to fight off a big crowd of friends just to interview her (below).
Minnesota 1, Stanford 2
Sunday, September 2 (Full live tweet thread)
If someone looked at the Gophers results week to week and thought these two game were similar – because they were both losses – they could not be more wrong. It’s unfortunate that Minnesota seems to play down to their competition at times, but this game showed they can also absolutely play up.
They were active. They played their high press as a unit. They moved well off the ball. When Stanford seemed content to kick the ball around their back line, Minnesota pushed forward and started making them feel uncomfortable. Sure, the Gophers continued their habit of giving up a preventable goal and ultimately lost, but they also fought back ferociously and scored a beautiful goal in the run of play against a team that hadn’t given one up in MORE THAN A YEAR (I’m sorry for shouting).
Friday, September 7th at 6PM – Home vs North Dakota State (Big Ten Plus)
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