Malory Brunett’s Big Comeback

The Frostburg State women’s lacrosse team find themselves trailing Allegheny College 12-11 late in the fourth quarter; hope is fleeting. Beads of sweat rain off of junior midfielder Malory Brunett as she retreats back on defense. She’s notched four goals already. The Bobcats need a stop, desperately.

An Allegheny player cradles the ball down the field, frantically surveying her options as she is hounded by the Bobcat defense. She passes it. Like a flash, Brunett appears out of nowhere to intercept the ball in stride.

It’s a fast break.

The crowd of just a hundred erupts. It sounds like a thousand. Brunett legs it coast to coast before being challenged in front of the goal by a Gator defender. A quick move before Brunett tucks her stick, trying to drive by her opponent. They collide. Brunett’s left knee hyperextends and she collapses, screaming in agony. Yellow penalty flags fly.

The rest of the lady Bobcats watch, helpless, as Coach Foy and the athletic trainers carry Malory, their captain, off the field.

With Brunett out, Ellie Garner is elected to take the eight meter penalty run. The whistle blows and Garner sprints towards the goal and extends her arms, and, just as the defense collapses on her, she sends the ball into the back of the net, sending her team into overtime with just seven seconds left in regulation.

“The team was shaken up, but right away we knew we needed to finish the game and win for her,” recalled teammate Megan White reflecting back on that fateful game two years ago. “We came together as a team and talked about how everyone needed to step up, so that’s what we did.”

White went on to score the game-winning goal in overtime to seal it. Frostburg had won, but the cost was dear.

Malory had unknowingly torn her ACL.

Coach Foy remembered this about the scary moment: “When she went down and I immediately ran out onto the field because I knew something was not right.  When I got to Mal, she grabbed my arm and would not let go.  I knew there was something wrong when she did that because she is a very tough player and usually is playing through aches and pains on a regular basis.”

Despite her injured knee, Malory had somehow managed to pass the Lachman test, clearing her to try to play three days later in a home game against Shenandoah University. Besides the swelling, she thought she was okay.

She wasn’t.

Towards the very start of the game, Brunett scooped a groundball, tried to make a sharp cut to change direction, and buckled.

“I just fell. It wasn’t pain, it just felt very uncomfortable,” said Brunett. “It felt like there was nothing in my knee. It felt like it was hollow.”

The athletic trainers, realizing it was serious, rushed out onto the field to help. As they carried her off, Brunett pleaded to them that she was fine. “I remember I kept saying, I’m okay; I’m okay. But, I really wasn’t okay.”

The then Head Athletic Trainer, Tony Zaloga, would confirm that indeed she was not okay two days later.

“He walked in, grabbed my knee, and said, ‘Yep, your ACL is torn’ and walked out.”

Brunett’s mother rushed to Frostburg to take her to home and then to a hospital in Howard County for an MRI.

There, the doctor told them that he believed she had partially torn it in the collision suffered against Allegheny, and that she had completely torn what remained intact of the ligament in the Shenandoah game.

Surgery was scheduled for May, after the semester had ended. Brunett did what little she could to “prehab” her knee in preparation.

The surgery was successful without any complications, but the road to rehabilitation would prove to be long and frustrating.

She spent the first two weeks after surgery in bed and a month on crutches before she could walk under her own power.

“I went to rehab three times a week, and would do supplemental stuff at home on my own,” said Malory. “I was doing new stuff every week, and I was progressing fast, but there were some points where no matter how much I did something, I just couldn’t move on. It was so frustrating because I worked my butt off.”

Just six weeks after the surgery, Malory was itching to start running again. “I could walk; I could do the ladder, but I wasn’t supposed to start running until three months. Time and patience just killed me. I could strengthen my knee, but I couldn’t speed up the healing process.”

About five months after the surgery, she was sprinting. Though she would end up missing the first few weeks of preseason, Brunett was able to play in the 2014 season opener in which she started, and even score a goal after missing the last 13 games in 2013.

“The first game was literally terrifying, and it was against Allegheny. Playing them again brought back bad memories,” said Brunett. “It was always in the back of my mind. I could feel it.”

But, halfway through the season, Brunett said she was back in full swing.

In the 2014 season, Brunett started all 16 games and led the team in points, goals, groundballs and draw controls, earning her Second Team All Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) honors.

This year, despite losing the first two games, the team bounced back against Bridgewater, winning 12-9, Brunett’s hat trick performance accounting for the difference. So far, she has accumulated six goals in the three games, and with 14 games left on the regular season schedule, there is plenty of time for number 10 to continue to make a strong closing statement in her final season as a Bobcat.

Coach Foy had nothing but praise for the team captain: “Malory loves our team. She wants what is best for our program and her teammates, regardless if that makes her the good guy or the bad guy in certain situations. She works well with the coaching staff and holds very high standards for herself and her teammates on and off of the field.”

“So many people told me, ‘You’re gonna come back a different player,’ and I’m like, okay, well I’m gonna come back better.”

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