It wasn't necessarily the pain that came with tearing an anterior cruciate ligament that bothered Northwestern midfielder Niki Sebo.
It was being away from the game she's loved most of her life. And one she wondered she'd ever be able to play again.
"It's kind of demoralizing," said Sebo, a Downers Grove North graduate, who missed all of her junior year in 2013 and took a medical hardship red-shirt this past season. "You play soccer for 15 years or so and then you have to learn how to run again after sitting around for a long time. It really stunk, but it also gave me a whole new love and respect for the game. I realize now how much it meant to me once it was taken away."
Sebo played in 37 games her freshman and sophomore years, starting all but two, and was poised for a breakout season when her knee gave way during a spring practice. It was more than a year before she was able to work her way back on the field against live competition.
"I started out walking, then jogging and then trying to run. But I had a hitch. I wasn't confident. I didn't want to put my weight on it," said Sebo of the slow recovery. "The biggest thing about cutting on it again was wondering how stable the knee was. It wasn't like I was scared to cut. But you realize that you have to use it and you can't be afraid."
"We missed Niki tremendously in 2013," said Wildcats coach Michael Moynihan. "She finished the season as one of our leaders in points, and her absence in our attack was irreplaceable. She has worked very hard to come back and is playing the best soccer we've seen from her.
"Niki also brings valuable experience and leadership to our team, and we can't wait to see her back on the pitch in 2014."
Sebo came to Northwestern with impressive credentials. She opted to play for the Eclipse Select Club team instead of Downers North and her teams won State Cup championships and finished second in three of her four years. She was second on the team in scoring at Northwestern her sophomore year and had high hopes for a junior campaign that never came.
By her own account, Sebo is now 100 percent. She is spending the summer working out and assisting at multiple Northwestern summer camps. The Wildcats have made it known that they are counting on Sebo's full return in their attempts to reach the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in the last three years.
"I'm ready to go," said Sebo. "And I'm running out of time. We have to make it count. Hopefully I can help. I've got to score quite a few goals to make up for last year."
"I'm ready to play and hopefully be the old me. Maybe better."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun