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Through torn ACLs and other injuries, Maize players looking to keep soccer brand alive

Tuesday night, three Maize soccer starters lined up next to one another, almost miraculously.

In the past 12 months, three Maize soccer starters have suffered major knee injuries, recovered and returned to the pitch.

In last season’s home opener against Valley Center, senior midfielder Marissa Llamas flew in for a header at the near post. When she landed she heard a pop.

It was a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus. She was out 12 months.

“Coming back, you don’t really lose your skill; you still know what to do, but you’re scared at times,” Llamas said.

Before last season, senior midfielder Payton Eskridge was playing an indoor game and slapped shins with the opposing goalkeeper on a play in the box.

“I went out crying, but I thought I was fine. I kept running, kept lifting, but as soon as I was on the ball, I couldn’t cut or do anything.”

A month later, she had an MRI that revealed a torn meniscus. She was out 12 weeks. In her first game back, she played half of the junior varsity game against St. Thomas Aquinas and most of the varsity contest that followed.

She played 108 minutes that day. Was back on the pitch the next day in a cold game in Kansas City and again a couple of days later back in Wichita against Northwest. She pulled her hamstring, and though she came back, she said she wasn’t herself.

“For me mentally, it’s something I have to work on every single game,” Eskridge said. “Every game day, I pray and listen to music that is going to keep my head right.”

Junior forward Mallory Stegman was running a drill in practice last season on wet grass with a lot of divots. She stepped in a hole, and her knee twisted. She heard a pop.

“I didn’t even cry,” she said. “I didn’t even think it hurt that bad.”

It was a torn ACL, and she was out six months.

“My biggest struggle was my confidence,” Stegman said. “And it’s still not all the way back. It’s still really hard to get over, and I’m terrified to do basically anything. But when I’m playing, I just kind of forget.”

“I’ve never had that many injuries on a team,” coach Jay Holmes said. “I’ve had one knee injury a year. Not like this.”

Already this season, the injury bug has hit the Eagles again. Senior center back Cheyenne Busker has been working to get back since Maize played Kapaun in the Titan Classic semifinals.

Holmes said though injuries are never easy to deal with, but they have opened the door for others to step in and perform.

On Tuesday, it was freshman defender Anjolina Schmidt and sophomore forward Mina Chapman.

Down 1-0 through 78 of 80 minutes, Schmidt played a flawless ball in to Chapman about five feet in front of goal who slotted it past Maize South goalkeeper Abbey Wilks.

Eskridge and Stegman, two players who would have been celebrating from the sidelines most of last season, were the first to Chapman pulling her to the ground. About 20 minutes later after two overtime periods, the Eagles earned a 1-1 road tie against their crosstown rival.

The recovery crew admitted they still aren’t back to 100 percent, and it is more the mental side that drags them down at times. Holmes said he gives those girls breaks when they need them but needs them on the field because of the roles they serve.

“I’m tired, and I don’t want to run anymore, but I am because this game matters, and my team needs me,” Eskridge said.

Llamas said she still gets nervous making a turn on the ball, something that took a blink before the injury but now takes five seconds.

Stegman said Maize is still learning about itself early in the 2019 season. The three-time Class 5A third-place finishers are off to a 3-2-1 start with losses to Valley Center and Kapaun, two of the best teams in the Wichita area.

The Eagles lost both center backs in Bailey Stedman and Ashlyn Lakin, one of their top goal-scorers in Rachel Marshall and a poised midfielder in Elizabeth Palmer.

Holmes said he is looking forward to what the second half of the season holds, especially for those players coming back to full fitness off injury. Llamas said

“We’re just trying to be the same Maize team that we’ve always been,” Llamas said.

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