Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Soccer teams at this point in a season are merely hoping to catch a break, but North Medford's girls team has the misfortune of having to deal with one.
In a scene that sent the Twitter world buzzing last Wednesday, North Medford senior Anna Smith suffered a gruesome compound fracture with about 10 minutes to go in a 5-0 triumph over Grants Pass at Spiegelberg Stadium.
For someone who has never really been hurt in all her years of soccer, the timing couldn't be worse.
"It's pretty heartbreaking," Smith said shortly after being released from the hospital on Monday. "To have it all over just like that, in my senior year, it's just awful."
The 17-year-old defender earned second-team all-conference honors a year ago and again was serving as an anchor on the back line for the Black Tornado when tragedy struck last Wednesday.
"Because it happened so fast, it's kinda hard to remember," said Smith. "I'm pretty sure my foot got planted in the turf and I was going one direction and the other girl was going another way and it all went bad from there."
So bad, in fact, that the severity of the injury — a fractured tibia and fibula on her right leg — seemed obvious to even those in the stands.
"They said you could hear it in the stands and they knew right away that it was broken," said North Medford head coach Emily Miller, who was dealing with late-game substitutions and actually had to go back to the game tape to see what transpired.
On the play, Smith was shielding the ball with her back to the field as it rolled toward the end line in order to gain a goal kick. As she was doing this, a Grants Pass player went into a slide in an effort to save the ball and potentially center it toward the goal.
"When she did that, she came through and struck Anna's right leg right in between the ankle and mid-shin area," said Miller. "Then Anna went down right away."
When Miller looked over, she initially thought another defender who had been battling an ankle injury was the one down on the field after possibly tweaking it again. Once she noticed it was Smith, the mood changed.
"I knew right away to go out because she's just one that never goes down or stays down," said the coach. "In the last four years, I've never seen her hurt or go down and stay down; she's a pretty tough player."
Once she got to Smith, Miller encountered a scene she had never experienced in all her days of playing or coaching.
"She was complaining about her right leg and wanted her shin guard off because I think she thought it was digging in or something," said Miller. "When I looked at her leg, you could tell the foot was hanging there and not supported or anything. The tibia and fibula were both protruding toward the inside, they weren't out of the skin but you could tell the leg bone just got shifted over."
Miller quickly tried to cover up the sight but Smith leaned up to look and got enough of an image at the bump on her leg that she admittedly "freaked out."
"My coach had me turn over and I saw how deformed my leg looked and I was just freaked out," said Smith, an outside defensive back. "It was just bent and messed up and all I knew was it was weird."
In fact, "It's weird, it's weird," was repeated over and over while Smith waited for paramedics to arrive after someone called 911. The only other thing she could mutter was that it was her senior year, and now it was over.
"That's tough for anyone to have to sit and listen to because you really can't say anything," said Miller. "It was just a bad time and it sucks that had to happen to her. We were just trying to get her to stay calm."
In about 25 minutes, Smith was fitted with an air cast and given an IV and some pain medication. Game referees came to an agreement with Grants Pass coach Hector Cruz that the game be called at that time, which was the least of Miller's concerns as she turned toward a sobbing group of players who had been huddled together since Smith's injury.
"It was traumatic, too, for the team because they were all worried for Anna," said Miller.
Smith underwent surgery to set the bones in her leg on Thursday and was surrounded by her teammates and coach later that day as Miller canceled practice so all could be by Smith's side.
"My family and my team have really been here for me," said Smith, who faces a three-month recovery period. "I really appreciate all they've done."
The Black Tornado's players kept their fallen teammate at the forefront of their minds by writing her name and number 9 on their wrists for Saturday's game in Roseburg, a 3-2 loss.
North Medford, the three-time defending Southern Oregon Hybrid champion, will take a 3-3-1 overall record and 2-1 SOH ledger into today's 5 p.m. clash with crosstown rival South Medford (7-2, 3-0 SOH) at Spiegelberg Stadium.
While Smith would rather be on the field for North Medford, she's still trying to do all she can to help lead her squad.
"She's been doing a nice job of trying to also motivate her teammates," said Miller. "In that situation, it would be easy to feel depressed and sad and no one would hold that against her, but she's been trying to send her teammates messages to make sure they play hard, even in practice, because you never know what will happen."
If anything positive can be taken from her injury, Smith hopes that theme is the one that prevails.
"Everyone should not take for granted doing something they love because you never know when it can be taken from you," she said. "I've just wanted them to keep going and not take any moment for granted. I wish I could be right next to them along the way and keep going at it, but mostly I just want them to win and keep going and be strong."
Miller said some adjustments will have to be made to the back line of the defense, which switched this year from a sweeper and stopper system to a four-back system, as well as to substitution patterns, but little has needed to be done to the team's mindset thanks to Smith's guidance.
"I was worried if they would play timid from seeing something like that but they've gone the opposite route and they really want to win these games for Anna," said Miller. "I think what they're feeling is just a sense of urgency. They've said it a number of times that they want to win for Anna and win as a team. It really has brought them closer together."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry