Whether on or off the field, redshirt senior Bri Garcia has solidified her role on the Penn State women’s soccer team’s roster.
Garcia is the voice, the encourager and the teacher — responsibilities she had to embrace while on the bench with a knee injury for nine games this season. After her third knee injury in as many years, the senior returned to the field this weekend as the No. 4 Nittany Lions got a win over Michigan State and a tie against Michigan to clinch their 15th straight Big Ten Championship.
A starter at the beginning of the season, seeing time at both midfielder and as a defender, Garcia was expected to make a big impact on the field to start the season. After going down on Sept. 8 against BYU, she was forced to re-examine her role.
“It feels really good to be back, it’s always hard sitting out and watching everything happen around you,” Garcia said. “I figured out what my role was not as a player but as a leader and head cheerleader. It’s definitely great to be back out on the field and playing with everyone again especially since it’s my last season with the team.”
Though she only received limited time in the two matches Garcia’s impact was immediate, as she notched the first assist to senior Christine Nairn in route to a 5-1 landslide over Michigan State.
Her return comes at a crucial time for the Lions, with only one regular season match to go, the team is gearing up for both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments in which they expect to go far.
On a roster that has been banged up all year with injuries on both offense and defense, Garcia’s return was well timed after starting defender sophomore Kori Chapic was sidelined after receiving Lasik eye surgery after being hit in the eye in a match against Iowa on Oct. 14.
“It’s a lift for our team emotionally to have her back out there,” coach Erica Walsh said. “She’s been in the shoes of every player on this team, she’s been a starter, she’s been injured, she’s sat for long periods of time, she can identify with every player. When she goes in there are 27 players living vicariously through her.”
Though Garcia is back in the lineup she admits that team doctors are looking at her condition day-to-day and she is about 60 percent right now. As she continues to practice with the team she hopes to play her way back into shape as the team ventures into the tournaments.
“It’s all about fitness wise, this weekend I was limited by the doctors,” Garcia said. “Obviously right now it’s a crucial part of the season for the team. Hopefully I can get some touches in the Big Ten tournament to play myself back into shape for the NCAAs.”
With the return of Garcia and the presence of the seven other seniors on the Lions, experience will be vital for the playoff run. Nairn said that each senior will have something to contribute.
“Whether it’s Lexi Marton and Jackie Molinda on the bench screaming every game or Bri Garcia coming back from an injury and giving us ten minutes of hard work and keeping us together,” Nairn said. “We get so many aspects and characteristics from our senior class.”