STROHECKER: Injured Dallastown girls' soccer captain still a leader for Wildcats
Every high school athlete looks forward to his or her senior season.
It's that special year when they have one final chance to leave everything on the field. It presents that last opportunity to play sports competitively and bring pride to their school.
Dallastown senior Sarah Conroy isn't getting that chance.
A member of the girls' soccer team, she isn't out on the field during practice and games competing with her teammates. Instead, she's on the sidelines, serving more as a coach and a mentor.
During the Wildcats' game against rival Red Lion last Thursday, the sight of her team warming up before the match without her sent her into a wave of emotions. Tears flowed from her eyes.
She worked her entire life up to this point to make her senior season a memorable one. Instead, she's faced with, perhaps, the most trying year of her soccer career.
"It's definitely hard to not be playing with my teammates," she said. "But, I'm just glad that I can be here and still support them and push them."
A mess of an injury: It all started with what Conroy described as a block-tackle.
Playing for her club team, the Hershey Rush, over the summer, she slid in to clear the ball away from an opposing player. The girl cut, and when she did, she hooked Conroy's leg and it twisted awkwardly with her.
The injury was severe enough that Conroy needed an MRI, which the doctors diagnosed as a calf pull. She was on crutches for a week, but after that rest period, she still experienced pain. A second test revealed something much worse, this time a torn calf.
After a month of rehab, she was back on her feet and at tryouts for the 2015 Dallastown season. It was hardly a tryout for her. As a captain for this year's team, her spot was safe. Still, she outperformed most of the players on the team, especially in a series of endurance tests that Head Coach Scott Austin puts his team through.
Once the third day of the tryouts rolled around, however, the players got into more soccer-specific drills. That's when she started to again feel the pain in her knee.
"I was able to try out and not feel anything until I went to cut or shoot, and then I had to get an MRI done and found out I had a torn ACL," Conroy said. "I was totally shocked because (the doctors) thought, if anything, I had bruised bones or it was partially torn. So, to hear that I fully tore it was very shocking to me."
If the news was hard on her and her teammates, it was especially hard on Austin. He's been Conroy's coach since she was a young girl coming up through the ranks in club soccer.
Austin made Conroy a captain for this year's team before it was even known that her knee was torn. Now, although she can't be on the field, she's showing her leadership abilities in other ways.
"She's a captain," Austin said. "And I don't need to say more than that. I keep her engaged, she keeps herself engaged, she works with the girls and talks to them. She's almost a pseudo-assistant coach because she can't be out on the field and can't exactly demonstrate it relative to her leg, but can say: 'Hey, watch what you're doing here.' And she's another set of eyes, not only on the bench, but also on the field."
The future:Before her injury, Conroy had dreams of playing college soccer. She drew some interest from NCAA Division III schools, but also limited her options to schools that offered a physician assistants program. Since tearing her ACL, some schools have backed off, but the ones that are still interested in her told her that her best bet at college soccer will be as a walk-on during her sophomore year.
"(The injury) did push them away," she said. "But, a lot of them have been really nice about it and have said: 'If this is what you want, then come out and try out your sophomore year.'"
Right now, the schools on her radar are Lock Haven, Alvernia and Philadelphia University.
Recovery process:Conroy had surgery on her knee about a month ago. That means, with an estimated 6-9 month recovery period for most ACL tears, she still has anywhere from 5-8 months to go.
But, that hasn't stopped her from making the most of her senior season. Before this year, Conroy was a two-year starter on the varsity team, including being named an honorable mention all-star as a sophomore in 2013.
Conroy has been with the team every step of the way since her surgery. When she was still recovering from her knee surgery, the team Facetimed her by phone so she could watch her teammates go through a team-building exercise at the ropes course at Ski Roundtop. She travels with the team to all its road games, even if she has to leave early for physical therapy sessions, which she goes to three times a week. Dallastown leads York-Adams Division I with a 6-0 record.
"I'm trying my best to pump up the team and just have them realize that I would do anything to be on the field with them and playing with them and that they shouldn't take playing for granted," Conroy said. "I think that helps push them, and when I can, I do try to yell encouraging things. I want them to go far and I'm glad I'll be with them."
It may not be exactly the senior year Conroy dreamt of, but it will certainly be one she won't forget.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker