Regaining Her Footing

After suffering season-ending knee injuries the past two years, talented Kenwood striker Singer returns with healthy outlook

From The Cover

September 21, 2005|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,sun reporter

"While most athletes set lofty goals for their junior years, Kenwood's Ashley Singer has a more modest ambition - to stay on her feet.

If she can manage that, the rest likely will fall into place for the junior, who ranked among the area's elite prep soccer players through half of the past two high school seasons. The sure-finishing, left-footed striker scored 12 goals as a freshman and 10 more as a sophomore.

Those 22 goals came in just 16 games. In the eighth game of each season, both times against Perry Hall, Singer tore an anterior cruciate ligament - in her right knee as a freshman and in her left as a sophomore.

She made it through surgery and rehab in time for the club season, taking the field with her Baltimore Bays teammates in March or April.

After the first injury in October 2003, Singer said, she wrestled with doubts about whether she could come back, but there was no doubt in her mind the second time around.

"I think I came back stronger than before. I worked harder," said Singer, 16. "I'm probably in the best shape I've ever been."

Kenwood coach Derek Woodward agreed.

"I've seen too many of these happen and this is the only one I've seen where she's actually come back faster. She's better now than she's ever been. She's a very dangerous attacking player and this hasn't taken away those things that made her good before," said Woodward, who also coaches the Bays.

Retaining her speed was critical, because Singer has always relied on that gift to enhance her skills. The combination makes her tough to contain.

"What separates kids in this game is their speed of play, and she's a notch above. She can do things that everybody else does, but at a whole other speed," Severna Park coach Gary Lam said after Singer scored two goals on his No. 9 Falcons in a preseason scrimmage.

As a proven scorer and a two-time choice for the United Soccer League Super Y League Olympic Development Program national Select Camp, Singer drew lots of defensive attention even as a freshman. Perry Hall marked her tight that October night, but Singer said it wasn't contact that brought her down.

"I was running down the field with two girls and I just stopped," Singer said. "The way I took my step, my leg just gave out on the top and I felt it go back in."

The previous Thanksgiving, Singer had torn a small nick in her right ACL, but not enough to require surgery. That hadn't hurt. This left her screaming in pain.

"I knew it was something that was going to be more than just a day or two," Woodward said. "When we got the results, I was worried from a team perspective, but I was worried about her, being a freshman, not being mature and not really knowing how to deal with it. She took it very hard."

Those short autumn days grew long with nothing but school and therapy to look forward to.

"It was a tough time. Soccer is kind of like my life, so it was like, `that's taken away from me,' so all I could do was sit around and watch," said Singer, a Randallstown resident who studies sports medicine in Kenwood's sports science magnet program.

After cheering a still-strong Bluebirds team through the rest of a 13-2 season, Singer finally stepped back on the field in March for a club tournament. She was eager to play, she said, but afraid of getting hurt again and afraid of not being as good as she had been.

Once Singer discovered she was just as fast and just as skilled, those feelings disappeared. They never returned. Not even after she tore her left ACL last fall when a Perry Hall opponent stepped on her shoelace as she began to pivot.

The pain was just as bad and the days grew long again, but through it all, Singer said, she knew she could come back again.

"The second time, you'd expect that she'd be more devastated, more deflated," Woodward said. "This time ... she knew she didn't have to have that self doubt. She knew what it was all about."

She returned to club action in April and tuned up for Kenwood's season by playing with the Bays at the U.S. Club Soccer National Championships on Long Island Aug. 5-7. She then won a bronze medal at the Maccabi Games in San Antonio the following weekend.

By the time the Bluebirds scrimmaged Severna Park on Aug. 30, her game revealed no hint she had ever been injured.

"From start to finish, particularly as the game wears on, fatigue sets in and technique starts to break down. Her technique and skill level were just as strong. She was as fresh and feisty in her last five minutes as her first five minutes. Her fitness level is phenomenal," Lam said.

Singer, who aims to play at the Division I level in college and then professional soccer, would like nothing more than to help her talented Bluebirds win the Baltimore County championship this fall.

Far from a one-girl team, the Bluebirds are 3-1 and ranked No. 9. Through four games, Singer had two goals and three assists as Kenwood moves into the heart of its schedule with Tuesday night's game at defending county champion Eastern Tech followed two days later by a home game with Perry Hall.

She said she is not concerned about playing Perry Hall again. Instead of worrying about what might happen, she would rather focus on playing soccer.

"I've grown up," Singer said. "I look at things from a different perspective. I try to take the good and the bad and make the best of every situation. I definitely appreciate soccer more, without a doubt."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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