Senior Katie Aubuchon sees the scars from surgery on her right knee everyday. It reminds her of an injury that kept her off the soccer field for more than a year. But a busted nose and broken tooth motivate her to return.
She points to the center of the main field at Soccer Park, Webster University women’s soccer home field, and recalls chasing after a Carroll University (Wis.) attacker on Oct. 7.
“I cut with my right leg when I should have used my left leg. So I was planting and my knee went inside but the rest of my body went outside,” Aubuchon said. “I could hear everything ripping.”
The initial report by Webster athletic trainers said she tore a ligament in her knee. Days later an MRI of her knee showed what trainer Lori Khazen called the “unhappy triad.” She tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), sprained her medial collateral ligament (MCL) and had a meniscus tear.
Khazen said the average recovery time is seven to nine months after surgery for that type of injury. Aubuchon’s nine-month mark was Sept. 18. Tendonitis, lower-back problems and screws in her knee pushed her goal to play back further.
On Oct. 5 Webster hosts Greenville College (Ill.) for their “Pack the House” game where they expect their largest crowd of the season, and Aubuchon expects to play. She reset her goal to play at that game for a reason.
“I just hate them,” Aubuchon said.
In 2011, Webster hosted Greenville in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference semi-final championship. A ball bounced at head height and Aubuchon redirected it with her head. The crown of a Greenville player’s head collided with Aubuchon’s face.
She lost half a tooth and broke her nose. That player is still on Greenville’s roster.
Greenville Head Soccer Coach Jeff Wardlaw said he knows the player was not head hunting, but just made a late tackle.
“I wouldn’t call it a dirty tackle,” Wardlaw said. “I would say it was mistimed and could be a reckless tackle.”
The Greenville players celebrated a 1-0 victory.
Another battle began on Facebook when the player who caused Aubuchon’s injury posted a photo. Aubuchon said the photo was of uniformed Greenville players with a caption that taunted Aubuchon saying “No. 9 with her teeth knocked out.”
Two days later the Webster men’s soccer team played Greenville. Aubuchon and players from Greenville’s women’s soccer team were in attendance. The players taunted Aubuchon in the bleachers and a verbal fight almost turned physical. Greenville’s athletic director had to reprimand his athletes.
Wardlaw said the players who were part of the harassment were disciplined for their off-the-field actions.
“There is a difference between a healthy rivalry and a hated rivalry,” Wardlaw said.
Greenville didn’t allow for players to comment.
The only retaliation Aubuchon said she wanted was to beat them on the scoreboard.
Her knee injury last season came three weeks before they played Greenville.
Monica Aubuchon, Katie Aubuchon’s mother, said everything that can go wrong has during Katie Aubuchon’s knee recovery.
Expecting to be told her knee was healthy enough to play, Aubuchon visited her knee doctor on Sept. 19. The bones in Aubuchon’s knees were rejecting the two screws that helped heal her ligaments. They are forcing the screws to push outward and cause even more pain when she runs.
She will need another surgery to remove the screws. The doctor told Aubuchon this occurs in only five percent of patients who have their ACL repaired surgically.
“I just feel like I’m in that percent that something always goes wrong,” Aubuchon said.
Aubuchon started to cry because a second surgery meant there was no chance of her playing her senior season. She said it took only a minute before she looked to her mom for support. Then she decided to postpone the surgery until Nov. 15.
“I don’t care if it happens again,” Katie Aubuchon said. “If I just sit on the sideline and don’t even try then that is failure to me.”
This was not Aubuchon’s only set back through her recovery year. Her surgeon repaired her ACL using a portion of her patellar tendon, which attaches the knee bone to the top of the shin. She developed tendonitis and Aubuchon said she expects that to affect her for the next couple years.
Khazen said the way Aubuchon damaged the three ligaments in her knee from a non-contact situation was unusual. Even before the knee injury she had dealt with back issues that prolonged her recovery.
Last season she began to suffer from sacroiliac joint pain in her lower back. In games her leg would go numb and she needed cortisone shots. Aubuchon blew out her knee days before she was scheduled to begin therapy for her back.
“She is a very internally motivated athlete,” Khazen said. “She’s done what she’s been asked and it’s been frustrating for her on many levels.”
Aubuchon said she had more than enough support between Khazen, her mother and her teammates.
Aubuchon would text Khazen throughout the summer and say, “This is getting so hard, I don’t know what to do.”
Monica Aubuchon said, “There was a time at the beginning of the summer where she just felt like it wasn’t gonna happen. We all talked to her, and you know you’re so close now there is no sense in quitting.”
In Aubuchon’s first practice on Sept. 19 she participated in a shooting drill and scored on her first attempt at a goal. She said she felt pride in her talents like she did before her knee injury.
“I overheard some players talking and they said ‘I don’t think the freshmen realize how good Katie was,’” Aubuchon said. “It’s just nice to have that support so I know I was a good soccer player before this.”