Bracing Falls: Knee Injuries Compromise Soccer Seasons For Warriors


Jill Edwards

Pain With Play: The action-packed sport of soccer is “the beautiful game” but the sport is not without its significant injury risks. For years now, orthopedists have been noting a rash of serious knee injuries in high school athletes, particularly female athletes. Junior Skylar Huckabee and sophomore Caroline Edwards are two North Atlanta varsity soccer players who have sustained and are recovering from ACL tears.

As all those who play the sport of soccer know, tearing an anterior cruciate ligament (or ACL) is one of the most dreaded injuries to sustain. 

Frequently in the wake of the devastating injury comes the following: a complicated surgery, grueling physical therapy sessions, and just a generally protracted, months-long recovery period. All that pain and there’s also this: an athlete during this lengthy stage is not able to play the sport she loves. And among Warrior athletes, even participants in the girls’ varsity soccer program know firsthand about the pain and suffering that accompanies the injury. 

What doctors and social commentators are noticing is that — among high school female athletes — ACL injuries are increasingly common. In soccer, females are three to five times more likely to tear their ACL than their male counterparts. A number of factors play into this, with one of the most prominent being an anatomical difference in the leg muscles of men and women. Women tend to have an imbalance in muscle strength in their quads and hamstrings, which puts stress on their knees and increases the risk of tearing the ACL. There isn’t any way to completely prevent an ACL tear, but orthopedists — medical doctors trained in bones and joints — say there are things that athletes can do to decrease the risk of a tear. Any athlete involved in a sport that involves plenty of running and cutting moves — and that pretty much describes soccer, right? — should do plenty of work to build up her quad and hamstring muscles. Doing so ensures those muscles are balanced and working together to better support the knee. Athletes, especially female athletes, should also gain more awareness about the way their bodies move. Women often tend to run more flat-footed than men, which puts added stress on their knees. To compensate for this anatomical reality, it’s important that players run with their weight on the balls of their feet instead of on their entire foot. This can be corrected by attending clinics or working with trainers who can teach proper running forms and techniques. 

The sad tales associated with ACL tears are ones that can be painfully recounted by several Warrior student-athletes. Junior Skylar Huckabee, who tore her ACL last year during the fall 2019 PowerPuff game, said she knew something was wrong the moment she sustained her injury. “When the reality set in that I had torn my ACL I was a mess,” she said. “I was upset about the injury and the thought of the tough recovery process only made it worse,” Huckabee said.

Huckabee has gone through months of therapy in the wake of her injury and is only now getting to the point where she is ready to get back on the field. She made her debut this fall with her club soccer team and says she has never appreciated playing soccer more. “It’s been hard to go through the whole process and for me it really has forced me to re-evaluate whether I can fully throw myself into physical activity and that’s been something hard for me to consider. But at the end of the day I’m going to give it all I have because it’s the sport I love,” Huckabee said. 

Senior Virginia Moes is another Warrior athlete who has endured a painful ACL tear. She injured her knee in August of this year while playing for her club soccer team. For years, Moses has been an anchoring defender for the Warrior girls soccer team. She’s still in the midst of her rehabilitation process and will need her doctor’s approval — not to mention her own sense of confidence that her surgically repaired knee can withstand the game she loves — before she can play again. But still, because of the injury, the prospect of missing out on her senior year of play is looming large. “It’s hard and you spend a lot of time just thinking about that one moment when everything changed,” Moses said.

Both Huckabee and Moses have said they have been determined to convert their rehabilitation regimens into opportunities for personal growth. Huckabee even has called her injury in blessing in disguise. “The injury has forced me to go inside myself and find strengths I didn’t know I had,” she said. “More than anything I’m focused on pushing hard and getting back on the field to play to contribute to my team.”   

On a personal note, this reporter is another Warrior athlete who has sustained a painful ACL tear. It happened in early-September while I was playing soccer with my club team. My surgery was on Sept. 15 and I’ve been immersed in the arduous recovery process ever since. As much as it’s been difficult — why deny that? — I will say that tearing my ACL has been one of the most character-building experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve grown so much in the sense that many of the life lessons that my dad preached to me when I was younger — things like “you don’t truly appreciate what you have until it’s gone” — have really proven true at this time in my life. My love for soccer has grown so much over these past few months and I have learned so much about self discipline and setting goals and sticking to them. 

Overall, tearing your ACL is not something anyone would want to happen to them, but the setback can be overcome with hard work and perseverance. But the threat of the injury continues to serve as a cautionary reminder that playing the game we all love comes with real and life-changing risks.