Healthy Welch back at Washington
Husky’s midfielder set to return after three torn ACLs
She, like many other student-athletes who start playing their sport at a young age, started playing soccer when she was around five. But, before she even started playing, she was constantly around soccer through her family.
“My brother, Matt, is two years older than me and he did soccer and I just wanted to do everything he did. He played soccer at the time and my dad was the coach, so I’d go out and watch his practices. If they needed someone, I’d go get balls for them.”
The next year, she played recreational soccer, which she continued for two years before joining a club she was a part of up until her junior year. Due to several players graduating from the team, she joined another club team for just her senior year.
In middle school, she tested the waters and played several others sports such as volleyball, basketball, and track, as well as soccer.
“My parents told me to do whatever I wanted and I pretty much stuck with soccer. It was what I liked.”
Welch played up a year, so a lot of her teammates during her upper middle and high school years were one or two years older than she was. So, when they started looking at colleges and started thinking about playing collegiate soccer, she started to think it could be a possibility for her too, even as early as junior high.
“I think by about my eighth grade year, I thought it was a possibility, because everyone else on my team at that time was a freshman or sophomore, and they were all looking at colleges. So I thought ‘Ok, I could do that.’ ”
A Los Altos, Calif., native wanted to be somewhat close to home, but still get the “going away to college” experience and didn’t want to attend a college anywhere characterized by hotter weather.
“So that kind of cut off about half the country,” she joked.
She received interest from Washington among other schools and Washington became her first choice. She also has family in Kirkland, so she feels fortunate being close enough to home to go back on visits and holidays, but still be close to family in this area as well.
During her junior year of high school, the nightmare string of serious injuries began.
“I was playing with another team, I wasn’t even with my team, and we were down at a tournament in San Diego. I got hit and I went down and it hurt, and they carted me off the field, but they said it wasn’t my ACL and they said it was just my left knee.”
Three months later, she knew something still was not right with her leg, so she went to another doctor, where she got a completely different diagnosis.
“He said that he thought I’d torn my ACL and my meniscus so I got an MRI and had surgery in February of my junior year.”
She took five and a half months off after her surgery and started working out and playing again for about six months. She played for her club team during the fall of her senior year and for her school that winter.
Almost a year after her first ACL injury, she went through the same situation all over again.
“That’s when I got hurt the second time on my right leg. It was a similar situation in that I didn’t think it was that bad; I walked off the field. Then I went to the doctor and they said it was my meniscus, not my ACL. Then it was still hurting and they said it actually was my ACL.”
For the second time in about a year, she again had to take time off from soccer to rehabilitate her leg. During this time, she came to UW and started her freshman year, but redshirted that year.
“I wasn’t ready and they told me to take my time. It was about five and a half months when I got here and I hadn’t really done any contact [drills] or played at all. [They] didn’t want to rush anything, especially because it was my second time [tearing my ACL]. They wanted to make sure it was all healthy, and they told me there was no rush.”
Welch re-joined the team, fully healthy, that winter and had just made it through the winter practices when she got the next devastating blow.
“I had just gotten through winter and been cleared. I didn’t have to wear my brace anymore; I was really happy about that and then, on the first day of spring, we were doing a passing drill and I turned weird and it just started to hurt. It was my [right] ACL again, the one I’d just had surgery on.”
Most athletes endure one torn ACL but this was now the third that Welch had endured and the second consecutive injury on the same leg.
“I don’t know if I have issues with the way I run or what. I’d waited a full year to come back, I didn’t rush to come back the second time so, it’s just really bad luck.”
She had surgery that May and, because of recovery and rehabilitation, she also missed this past season. Teammate Morgan Swanson was also coming back from injury, so they were able to do no contact drills and rehabilitate together. She was again cleared to play at the beginning of this past winter. She and Swanson slowly rejoined the team in drills, both with a brace on, but says they’re both done with the brace “hopefully forever."
The worst part, for her, of missing an extra year past her redshirt year was not losing the year of eligibility but was simply missing out on team trips and overall comraderie.
“It was more of a bummer just because I couldn’t play. … I was bummed about not being able to travel with the team and do things with the team, because they were gone.”
Despite missing other team trips, Welch did get the opportunity last November to go to Portland with the team for one of the biggest upsets in school history: the Huskies upset in the second round against the No. 2 Pilots in the NCAA tournament.
Though “it was hard not to be out there […] on the field with the rest of the team, […] I was just so excited for [them]. … It was an exciting game and the PK’s were so nervewracking.”
After both teams went through their rotation of kicking PK’s and the score was still tied, even some of the officials were not sure what the rules said about finishing the game. Welch, on the other hand, knew exactly what would happen. While playing with her club team, “we’d actually been in a tournament, our state cup, my sophomore or junior year, where that had happened and we made it through the whole team in PK’s. So I knew what would happen, because that had happened to me. I couldn’t believe that actually happened [again], because that doesn’t really happen in soccer.”
Despite the fact that it “made the waiting even longer” for the game to conclude, she says, “it was even better when we won.”
After over two years since she’d played in a game, since her senior year of high school, she was able to stay healthy and finally play with her UW teammates this spring.
“I was excited but I was super nervous. I wasn’t nervous about my knee; I just hadn’t played in a soccer game in about two years. I was still nervous and a bit frantic at times, because it was my first game back.”
Once she settled in and calmed her nerves, she “was more comfortable playing out there. It was good just to be playing games again, because it had been a long time.”
This spring and summer, Welch has worked on completely recovering and regaining the strength, speed, and stamina she once had prior to not one, not two, but three potentially devastating injuries.
“[I’m] getting back to where I was. The speed of play is one of the harder things for me to come back to, especially in the middle, because there are people coming at you from every direction. … Fitness was an issue, too, because I haven’t played continuous soccer for a long time. Winter was a struggle, because it was a little soccer and a lot of running.”
She understands the necessity of putting in these long hours to get back to the physical condition she was in before multiple injuries saying, “You need to put the effort and time in, because in the end it will pay off. So, I’ve been working on that a lot this summer and I feel like it’s improving, so by [the start of the season] I should be ready to go.”
This fall, and after not playing in a regular season game for over two years, her goal is “to prove to people that I can come back. This doesn’t happen to most people. I want to show people that I’ve had all these challenges, but I was able to get through them and it’s pushed me along.”
She speaks to the team nature of not only UW women’s soccer but all of the teams at Washington saying that “everyone on the team has helped me, whether it was in winter and I was struggling or whenever, the team has been great in helping me get back.”
Welch has never once been convinced that she wouldn’t come back from the multiple serious injuries she’s sustained in the past few years.
“The first year, I just thought that I needed to get through that knee surgery and I just needed to recover. I was on my way back, so that [next] year was a big bummer. The second year, it was more difficult, but it never really crossed my mind not to play soccer. Ever since I was little, it’d been my dream to play soccer.”
She says that the only time the thought had even crossed her mind not to play was when one doctor suggested that she should consider how continual injuries to her leg could affect her ability to walk in the long run.
“That was really the only time I considered stopping. They said it was fixed, but I obviously have something that’s making me more susceptible to tearing my ACL. But they left it up to me.”
She met with the coaches and they asked if she planned to come back and play.
“I said yes because that was the only way I’d really be able to get through my rehab. For me to get through rehab and do it well, I had to tell myself that I was coming back, because that was my motivation to get there. My motivation was to get to spring and to play that game.”