Freshman Josephine McCray heard a pop. It’s fine, I just need to walk it off, she thought to herself. It was Nov. 23, the Kansas Division 1 State Cup Soccer Semifinals. If she got subbed out, she couldn’t go back in. She couldn’t be hurt.
After slowly standing up and walking it off, the game went on with McCray back as center defender. McCray got in place to defend a corner kick from the opposing team, Velocity, where she knew she needed to clear the ball. She felt the contact while she was mid-air and fell sideways. Another pop.
“I felt like my whole knee exploded,” McCray said. “[After] the second [pop] I was like OK, something is actually wrong. I was really scared.”
It took weeks of X-rays and MRI’s before they actually found out what was wrong with her. She later found out that she had torn her Anterior Cruciate Ligament, or ACL, a ligament in a knee that prevents hyperextension.
She knew what all this meant: surgery, six to nine months of recovery and no high school sports freshman year.
Soccer is McCray’s best sport, but she has also been playing basketball for as long as she can remember. Starting on an all-boys team with her brothers, she played on GABL basketball until middle school. Then the recent addition of school sports at Indian Hills made her leave GABL to play on the highest, or A1, team there.
As for soccer, McCray began seriously playing club soccer in fourth grade. She’s been on five different teams since then, always looking for something new.
With her injury in early November, she won’t be recovered in time to play any basketball or soccer her freshman year. In fact, basketball tryouts were the week following her injury, starting Nov. 14, forcing her to be a manager for the JV and varsity teams this season. Instead of ball handling drills she is washing water bottles and running the clock at practice.
“It just sucks,” McCray said. “I watch everyone try out and play the sport while I’m just sitting there managing.”
However, McCray says there are some pros to her injury, specifically the timing. Tearing her ACL in late November puts her in a position to have the whole summer to train and get into soccer shape. If injured in the summer, for example, she would recover right before high school soccer season. Getting back then would mean trying out after not playing for six to nine months.
This additional time over the fall will allow her to get to know the coaches, both soccer and basketball. She can see what they like and expect from their players during her time out.
Keeping this positive attitude, McCray has five to seven months left of recovery after her surgery on Dec. 23. This includes hours of physical therapy, doctors visits and painful tests.
During pre-surgery physical therapy, nothing was at stake, McCray said. Her ACL couldn’t be torn more than it already was, so she felt like she had nothing to worry about. Her reality post-surgery, though, was not what she expected. McCray was shocked at how much harder the physical therapy was.
“My leg hurts pretty much all day,” McCray said. “It’s just weird knowing that one leg doesn’t work. [Physical therapy] has been really frustrating. It gets overwhelming because I do it every single day.”
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ website, the first thing physical therapy and rehabilitation focuses on is gaining motion back in the knee and muscles surrounding it. This is what McCray is doing now; the physical therapy makes the knee function properly, like it was before surgery. Following that is a strengthening program that protects the knee from future tears.
McCray’s is looking forward to the strengthening process, specifically getting back to running. Her expected recovery will be around August or sometime in early fall.
Getting back to sports comes with almost as many fears as excitements. She now doesn’t want to get near people that could possibly injure her again. She also has a looming fear that her leg might “explode” again.
McCray is caught in the middle. She wants her physical therapy to make her recovering leg stronger than before, like the doctors said, but still fears it might not. She wants get to know the basketball and soccer coaches before playing for them, but hopes it doesn’t set her back at all.
As she goes through the hours of physical therapy, McCray is frightened for what it could entail but stays hopeful for the future.