Jessica Horneman of Liberty is not fond of the mask she's forced to wear. It's an oversized contraption that occasionally cuts off her side vision and often makes Horneman keep her head up.
In addition, it's not the prettiest piece of equipment in field hockey. To that end, the mask sometimes has drawn taunts from the stands, and all of this has made Horneman's season more difficult than expected.
L But no one said coming back from a broken jaw would be easy.
Horneman missed about a month -- including the team's first four games -- with the broken jaw suffered in a preseason scrimmage. But despite having to overcome several hurdles, she has rebounded to again anchor the defense for No. 8 Liberty.
Horneman broke her jaw (on the left side) in a freak accident during a scrimmage with McDonogh. She and another player went for a loose ball and collided head-on, leaving Horneman on the ground for several minutes.
She did not even realize the jaw was broken at first. But as the day progressed, the jaw became more difficult to open. X-rays showed it was broken, but only needed to be wired shut for three weeks instead of six, which could have sidelined her for the season.
Horneman stayed with team for practices and games, but it proved a much harder task than she expected.
"The first game was against North Carroll," said Horneman. "I sat on the bench and was ready to play, but I [couldn't]. I was ready to cry. I never realized how much I missed playing."
Said Liberty coach Courtney Vaughn: "I knew she was really down in the dumps."
The jaw wiring hurt Horneman in many ways. She couldn't run because she couldn't breathe. Walking on a treadmill was the best she could do to stay in shape, but even then Horneman could go for only about 10-15 minutes at a time because of her limited breathing capacity.
But Horneman was ready upon her return. She worked overtime in practice and Vaughn eased her back into the lineup, starting with a strong second-half performance against South Carroll.
Horneman played a big role in Liberty's success last year, and Vaughn said the senior is even better this season. Horneman is a dominating center back and had one of her best games on Wednesday in a 2-1 loss to No. 3 Westminster.
Despite constant offensive pressure from the Owls, Horneman repeatedly sparked the defense by breaking up plays, blocking passes and shots.
Horneman often races right to the ball and shows no signs of fear of being hit in the face -- even though it happened again this season, with no additional damage.
"She's not afraid at all on the field," said Vaughn. "She doesn't hold back."
Oddly enough, the mask may be a big reason. Horneman said it helps her feel a bit more secure on the field, and she might wear it if she plays somewhere next year.
"When I have the mask on, I'm not as scared," said Horneman. "Even if I do get hit, it won't do as much damage."
But it does grab attention. The large white mask covers Horneman's entire face. The mask draws looks and laughs -- which shook Horneman a bit at first.
"I knew she didn't want to wear this," said teammate Danielle Gray. "We knew it was a pretty embarrassing thing to have to wear that mask."
But the Lions offered to help Horneman overcome her mask troubles. They tried to take her mind off it. The rest of the Lions also told Horneman that, if she wanted, they would each wear a mask on the field as a show of support.
Horneman declined the offer, but it moved her. And Gray said this was not an empty promise.
"We tried everything to make it a more comfortable situation for her," said Gray. "We would have worn them, I'm sure."
Now that the playoffs are looming, Horneman said she's ready. Breaking her jaw certainly was not a fun experience, but Horneman said she learned from it.
"I'm proud that I was able to come back and play hard and play well," said Horneman. "If I could go back, I wouldn't want to break my jaw again, but overall it's been a good senior year."