Sydney Szparaga did not want to believe the worst after she felt the all-too-familiar pop.
The South Western junior had lunged during her first District 3 lacrosse game as a freshman and felt something give in her left knee. She did not want to think this was her second ACL tear in just 18 months.
"It's not as uncommon as you might think," Mustangs coach Jim Kopenhaver said. "My oldest daughter (Kristin Kopenhaver, who plays at Drexel) went through it, and she said several teammates have torn both."
And so Szparaga began another lengthy rehabilitation process, both of which came in the midst of important times of development. College coaches will search for players during their first few years of high school.
"I wouldn't have told her that at the moment," said Tracey Rohrback, who coaches Szparaga on the Check-Hers Elite 2013 club team based in Westminster, Md. "That was a tough time, but, bigger to me, you're missing two years.
"She had to start from the bottom. She actually worked her way back to where she's an impact player."
That's for sure. Szparaga has scored 83 goals for the Mustangs her first two seasons. She will likely play defender in college after verbally committing to Siena, where she hopes to study law.
The Mustangs open their season at 7 p.m. on March 23 at York Suburban. Szparaga is excited for the season to begin and believes this could be a great year for the team.
Her high school career has so far fulfilled Kopenhaver's vision after he first coached her four years ago. He believed, at the time, she would start as a freshman at South Western. She did.
"When you've been playing for that long and you have good instruction -- she was head and shoulders above her teammates," he said. "Not only a fundamentally sound player, but she was also a leader. When a kid has natural leadership, she's going to have success.
"I don't have a lot of 'holy cow' moments with Sydney because I've always had high expectations for her. I expect the same amount of production out of her this year because she's going to play a similar role."
Her leadership qualities could be seen during her physical therapy. She would go to her club and high school teams' games to cheer for teammates. It was difficult for her not to be able to play, but she wanted to support them.
The downtime helped her see things on the field she wouldn't have seen while playing, which helped her improve. During this time, however, the idea of quitting never crossed her mind.
"That was a really tough time for me, not being able to play because my body wasn't capable of it," Szparaga said. "Having to miss out on lacrosse and field hockey, I hated it. I love sports. It's my passion. I don't think I would be able to watch from the sidelines."
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