Bri Garcia found herself in a terrifying situation for a second straight year.
Two years removed from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, she injured her other knee in a Sep. 17 match against Wisconsin, this time tearing her left medial collateral ligament (MCL). After just nine games, the starting center midfielder was sidelined for the rest of the season.
Garcia is back and looking stronger than ever after a long offseason of preparation. The redshirt senior has started all six of the No. 7 Nittany Lions’ games this year and is helping to command a defense that has only allowed five goals in six matches this season.
“I knew that it was definitely going to be a hurdle,” Garcia said. “It was in the middle of our season pretty much so I knew my focus had to be pumping up the team.”
Last spring Garcia had surgery to remove part of her meniscus from her knee so the entire season was dedicated to her rehab. However, she was able to take a positive out of her situation, taking the time to sit back and observe the game.
“I took my knee injury as a chance to be a student of the game,” Garcia said. “I was analyzing games with the coaches. By doing that, coach [Erica Walsh] was exposing me to thinking outside the box, and I saw different aspects of the game I needed to work on.”
As a center midfielder, Garcia does not individually fill out the stat sheet. She has no goals or assists this season but her defensive play has allowed the Lions to rise in the rankings early in the season. The Lions are outscoring opponents 20-5 with three shutouts so far. Garcia’s heightened level of play has not gone unnoticed.
“This is the best I’ve ever seen Bri Garcia play,” Walsh said. “She’s confident, she’s fit, she has become a tremendous presence in the air for us, she’s basically running the show.
A summer of hard work has allowed Garcia to get in the shape she’s in now. It was a long road for her that truly made her reflect.
Garcia said she returned to the team in the spring out of shape and frustrated. She started running with the team to get back on track.
“I used that as motivation for the summer,” Garcia said. “I was here the entire summer working with the girls here and using them as motivation. It was a lifestyle change, and I’m 100 percent reaping the benefits now.”
Walsh said Garcia spent the summer not only working to get back on the field physically, but getting a better understanding of the game through coaching. Garcia coached the U-16 Clearfield Club soccer team as well as teaching at multiple camps throughout the spring and summer.
“It obviously gives you a different perspective of the game and she took advantage of it,” Walsh said. “She did a lot of coaching in the off-season and she’s looking at the game in a different way now.”
The Lions have had to prove their depth already this season with a number of injuries and absences. Seniors Lexi Marton and Jackie Molinda have not seen time so far this season due to injuries and freshman Raquel Rodriguez has missed some time playing for the Costa Rican national team. Without these contributors, Garcia and sophomores Whitney Church and Kori Chapic have become the vital core of the defense.
Church, who stepped up in place of Garcia after last season’s injury has enjoyed the opportunity to play alongside her this season.
“It feels great, Bri Garcia is a fantastic player,” Church said. “Her knowledge of the game is fantastic. Being able to communicate and play with her has been amazing.”