Injuries necessitate change for Illinois soccer

Injuries can be demoralizing. They can break the spirit of teams and individuals and wreak havoc upon expectations.

Say a team’s star player gets hurt. Maybe it’s not season ending, but there’s no timetable for their return. How do you cope? How do you fill the hole left by their absence?

Sometimes you don’t.

Illinois soccer is dealing with this exact problem. Senior midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo suffered a knee sprain in the Illini’s match against Iowa in late September and hasn’t seen the field since.

Every week it’s “maybe.” Maybe she’ll be OK. Maybe today is the day. Maybe we can will her to get better.

Head coach Janet Rayfield has had to dig deep and depend on her bench. Inexperienced athletes who have only played limited minutes in the past — like midfielders Megan Green and Noelle Leary — have stepped into bigger roles in the offense.

On top of that, other players have had to switch positions completely to adjust for missing or injured teammates. Sophomore Aliina Weykamp made the switch from midfield to defense while Amy Feher has stepped outside of her purely defensive role to help out on offense.

But sometimes injuries do something for a team that nothing else can. It forces individuals to come together to fill that hole, to move on despite their struggles.

Injuries are never desired. It’s not an answer to “how do I get my team on the same page?” It’s an unfortunate event that can sometimes motivate people to perform above and beyond.

Take the Louisville Cardinals for example.

During March Madness this past year, in an Elite Eight game against Duke, sophomore guard Kevin Ware suffered a break to his right tibia. Ware was carried off the court with around six minutes remaining before halftime — the video of his gruesome injury went viral in a matter of minutes.

How does a team come back from that? Watching a teammate and friend go down, not knowing what’s wrong or if he’ll ever be able to play basketball again.

But the Cards fought. They beat Duke 85-63 and went on the win the national championship, Kevin Ware constantly in their thoughts.

Could Louisville have won without the extra inspiration? No one can tell. And obviously the entire program would rather Ware had never been injured, but he was, and perhaps the championship was a result of the injury, at least in part.

Can soccer band together in the same way? DiBernardo isn’t out for the season. She may even return to face Northwestern Thursday evening in Evanston, Ill. But she might not, and then what?

Her teammates continue to adjust. They figure out which lineup works best. They show toughness and they buy in to the idea that they can be successful even though their rock, their captain, isn’t running alongside them.

She’ll be on the bench, only a few feet away, cheering them on.

Aryn is a senior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @arynbraun.