After an injury sidelined Elise Andrews last fall, Fallston's girls soccer team didn't go far in the regional playoffs.
But Andrews is healthy and in even better form this season. She is once again the pivotal player for the Cougars, who are undefeated in the county and almost certainly playoff bound. After physical therapy and lots of hard work over the summer, the senior stopper is back at full power.
Although doctors told her last fall she would be out four to six weeks, Andrews managed to return for the regional game against Joppatowne. She had pulled the quadricep muscle away from her hip bone in a game against Bel Air, but she wasn't about to let it stop her from playing in the regionals.
The physical injury didn't take long to heal, but Andrews admitted it was much longer before she could run at full speed and not worry about hurting herself again. Sometimes, that fear still haunts her.
"If I wimp out and let it take over, then it does. But it hasn't happened yet this year. I thought about it too much in the Joppatowne playoff game, and I think that was one of the reasons we lost. But I don't think it'll happen again," said Andrews, who also plays lacrosse for the Cougars.
Over the summer, Andrews gave up her part-time job to spend the extra hours refining her soccer skills. She ran and did stretching exercises to strengthen the injured leg. Then, she headed out to the field for three hours.
"Every day, I would stand at the backstop at the rec field and just kick and kick and kick and kick," said Andrews, who also referees youth games and coaches an Under-14 rec team.
Her efforts already have paid off. Andrews has scored 10 goals while remaining a dominant force on defense. Her well-rounded game has impressed some college coaches as well as Fallston Coach Nancy Ferguson.
"She's our workhorse," said Ferguson. "Elise definitely keeps us in control out there. She has great endurance, so if we're lagging a bit in the backs she can cover, but she can also push us up field."
Last week, Andrews scored two goals in a 3-0 victory over Aberdeen on Monday. Wednesday, the Cougars tied Bel Air, 1-1, to bring their record to 6-2-1 with two weeks left in the season.
Good speed and height (5-foot-10) have helped the hard-working senior become a dominating high school player, but that isn't quite good enough for Andrews. When she cracked the Fallston starting lineup as a freshman, Andrews started thinking about playing college soccer.
Although she had played soccer since her brother Andy, 20, coaxed her onto the field as an eight-year-old, Andrews had only played in rec leagues.
She knew she needed more experience against tougher competition, so she joined the Harford United 1973 team. Playing in the Washington Area Girls Soccer League, Andrews discovered a whole new level of the game.
"In club ball the passing is a lot quicker. It's a lot more of a controlled game. You don't ever see the kick-and-run game unless you're fighting the wind. The game is kept on the ground and the passing is always under control."
Without her experience with Harford United, Andrews doubted any college coach would have noticed her. Instead, she has been recruited by several.
So far, her list has narrowed to Virginia Tech, Roanoke (Va.), Mercer (Macon, Ga.), Canisius (Buffalo) and Providence (RI).
"(The college game is) a much more physical game," explained Andrews, who carries a 3.38 grad point average and hopes to go to law school. "I hear some high school girls say, yeah, I might want to play college ball, but if they haven't taken that step up to club teams they just won't be ready."
While she knows that cracking the starting lineup may take longer in college than it did in high school, Andrews is no less determined. She has not had to look far for her inspiration.
Her brother Andy, a linebacker at VMI, also bounced back from an injury. His work ethic helped his sister keep going through those long workouts on hot summer days.
"My brother is very dedicated. He lifted weights and he worked hard to come back from knee surgery. I see how hard he works and how much respect he gets. I think, 'is that what I want?'. And the answer is definitely 'yes.'"