For most of the players on the Wilson Youth Soccer Association U16 Girls team, hitting the pitch at Gillette Soccer Complex Monday for practice ahead of the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship Series represented a return to the soccer field for the first time after a week-long break. For Hunt High rising sophomore Maddie Brown, it was a return from a much longer absence.
Brown fractured the growth plate in her hip during Hunt’s regular-season finale, a 2-0 win over rival Fike, on May 9. Brown’s first year of high school soccer was over, as she did not get to play in any of Hunt’s four playoff games, nor did she get to play in any of WYSA’s games at the USYSA Region III championships in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in June. Monday was her first practice after being medically cleared to play.
“It was really good playing with the girls and getting back with them,” Brown said. “It was like a piece of my heart coming back together.”
After her injury, Brown at first had to refrain from physical activity and ice her hip. She eventually progressed to physical therapy, stretching and working with resistance bands before finally being cleared to play.
Not being able to play in the playoffs for Hunt, or in the regional championships for WYSA, but instead watching from afar on the video feed, was a challenge for Brown.
“It was really hard knowing I couldn’t go out there with Hunt or WYSA” Brown said. “Normally I would have been there playing with them. It could have been another step for the girls knowing that we still had the nine that made it to the playoffs.”
Brown’s patience paid off, however, as Monday, she was able to hit the field again fully healthy, and, according to WYSA head coach Randol Mendoza, it looked like she hadn’t missed a beat.
“From what I just saw in (Monday night’s) practice, Maddie looks right where she left off,” Mendoza said. “So the work that she’s been putting in, you can tell that it has paid off. She’s been super patient with the injury, super careful. It’s a mental challenge as well as a physical challenge, and Maddie has handled it really well. So for her to come out here and have a practice like she had tonight just tells me that she’s ahead of where I thought she would be at this stage.”
Brown, who scored 19 goals in 21 games for Hunt during the 2022 season, normally operates was WYSA’s starting forward, scoring goals and creating space and opportunities for the team’s center mids.
With her absent in Murfreesboro, Mendoza had to get creative with his lineup, and ask other players to play out of position. Brown’s return should allow the WYSA players to return to the spots they’re more comfortable with, and make Wilson’s offensive attack that much more dangerous.
“It gives us that much more depth, because when the injuries occurred, I had to put people in places that maybe they weren’t accustomed to,” Mendoza said. “… But now having a player like Maddie who plays the forward position and that’s her natural position and the position that she aspires to play in the future, now we have somebody there that has some experience, that has scored the goals for us, that is a hard-working player. She’s gritty, she’s not afraid of challenges, she goes up for headers. There’s a lot that she brings to the table in that position. That gives us another weapon in the attack.”
Brown said that she feels the time away gave her a renewed appreciation for getting to play soccer, and should send her into next week’s games — WYSA’s first trip to the national championship series in club history — with an increased hunger to play well and drive Wilson’s success.
“We had a conversation after (Tuesday) night’s practice,” Mendoza said. “That was one thing that we brought up. Now with this injury, she’s been out for an extended period of time. When an athlete goes through that, typically you build a new appreciation for the sport. You hate that she missed that many games or you missed that much time off.
“So I think now what Maddie has gone through gives her perspective on how much she actually loves that sport and from hearing her talk about it last night, she really missed it and she’s been eager to get back in, but she’s also been patient. She didn’t want to rush anything for the sake of playing and then risk another potential setback. So she’s done all the right things, she’s done the work. Now she has a new appreciation for the game, so I think it’s only going to be good things in her future.”
Brown also knows that, in addition to getting to compete for a USYS national title with her team, playing against top caliber teams and players from around the country in Orlando should help show her what she needs to do to improve her game going into her sophomore year at Hunt.
“I think it’ll be really good for me, knowing since I’ve been out and haven’t been getting a lot of contact with other players and with the players that we’re about to go against,” Brown said. “Knowing that they’re coming in with a lot of intensity and knowing that I need to work way harder for my team so we can come out with a good result.”