It’s the word every player, coach and fan dreads hearing.
At a moment’s notice, an athlete’s life can be changed and a team’s season thrown off the rails. It’s often random and always devastating.
For Penn State, it’s an affliction about which the Nittany Lions know all too well. Perhaps the team’s biggest problem has been the lack of stability and cohesiveness, which stemmed from the rolling list of injuries on the roster.
Coach Erica Dambach, looking at the bigger picture, thinks a lot of positives could come from the bad experience in being sidelined.
“It is part of the journey as an athlete, too often, unfortunately,” Dambach said. “I’ve just seen too many positive things come out of those moments in terms of strength of people, strength of athletes, coming out of the other side stronger than they’ve ever been, knowing that they can take on everything.”
Kerry Abello has had a history with injuries, most recently with a huge scare that saw her leave the game in a walking boot against Oklahoma State on Sept. 12. She denoted the quick contrast of the mindset of injured players in this setting.
“It’s always like your first reaction is you’re upset and frustrated and that’s a really natural reaction,” Abello said. “But I think the thing that helps me through it is always just looking to my teammates and knowing that they’re going to do what they need to do to take care of what needs to be taken care of on the field.”
Abello suffered an ill-timed injury late last season, spraining her MCL in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament and missing the semis and final. She also realized in that high-stakes moment, while she needs her teammates’ support, she also needs to be there for them off the field.
“It was obviously really tough for me because I wanted to be on the field with my team,” Abello said. “Getting through that I think was just constantly looking to my teammates, using them as resources. They were all here for me and I wanted to be there for them too.
“I think going through that process, I just learned that it's not the end of the world to get injured, and you just need to look to the people around you to support you and lift you up and get you back on the field as soon as possible.”
Ally Schlegel was part of that support group last year. She had to redshirt because of a torn ACL — the second of her career — and was still voted Penn State Rookie of the Year by her teammates for her off-field presence.
“Although I couldn’t necessarily put my efforts onto the field, the things that I was doing off the field and the rehab – all the things I was doing as a teammate mattered,” Schlegel said.
Schlegel is perhaps the poster child for the “getting back stronger than ever” narrative in the program.
In her first season of college soccer, Schlegel has already found the back of the net eight times in 13 appearances and is currently the top scorer and point-getter on the Nittany Lions.
As positive as Schlegel is as a person, the injuries still initially got to her and made her question herself.
“As an injured person, like, I think you sometimes think that you don’t matter, but you do,” Schlegel said. “Your mind just tends to go to other places because you can’t play right then and right there. All the clichés people tell you are true. They wouldn’t be clichés if they weren’t true.”
However, Schlegel would not want to have it any other way.
“I wouldn’t go back and try to change it,” she said. “Both injuries told me different things about the world and myself so with mental health, it just taught me how I have to deal with my emotions. You can’t always be okay, but at the same time, you can’t feel sorry for yourself 24/7.”
Schlegel also pointed out a very important aspect in letting the feeling run its course, especially with the negativity.
“I think the times when I just needed a day to feel bad for myself, I would let myself do that but I couldn’t last longer than a day,” Schlegel said. “I think it was important for me to acknowledge my emotions and acknowledge that things were hard and what I was going through was tough. But in the next day, I realized that there’s so much to be optimistic about and so much more coming.”
The players agree that they would not have gotten through injuries without their teammates as a support system.
“I think sometimes it's easy to think when you get injured and you're not playing that you're not as important but every piece of our team is so essential, even if you're not on the field,” Abello said. “They’re always here to support me. Everyone has gone through some sort of injury so we’re always there to help each other.”
They’ve also realized the importance of having a go-to support group when they need it most. For Schlegel, she has found that group in her freshman class.
“Maddie Myers, Rachel [Wasserman], Cait [Haislip], Kat [Asman], Kelli [Beiler], we were all in the dorms together. They were just my bouncing board whenever I needed something,” Schlegel said. “They were just good to have because not only could they support me, but they could also give me that tough love at times when needed.”