Down, but not out

After a torn ligament left Fallston midfielder Matt Nowicki coaching his team from the sidelines, he is back in shape and in action


October 15, 2006|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,special to the sun

Fallston midfielder Matt Nowicki wasn't able to help his team much on the field during the 2005 season.

In the season opener against Centennial, his right knee buckled while he was going for a second-half tackle. He had to have surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which was followed by a long rehabilitation process.

But Nowicki helped the team in ways no one could have anticipated going into the season.

Named team captain by coach Christopher Hoover, the junior attended every game and became an unofficial assistant coach. He became an inspirational leader for the Cougars, who finished with a 13-2-1 record.

"He stepped up last season," teammate Andy Stromberg said. "He pulled the team together when we needed it the most. When we were down in a game, when we just needed some inspiration that Hoover couldn't provide us, Matt would do it. It meant a lot, and everybody appreciated it."

The Cougars now appreciate that Nowicki has returned to the field in top form. He had five goals through 11 games and has helped No. 6 Fallston (9-1-1) keep winning.

Two years ago, Nowicki had six goals and four assists as a starter at striker, helping Fallston advance to the Class 3A state semifinals. He hoped for bigger things in 2005 and had one assist against Centennial when he went down in the second half.

"I just went to plant my right leg, and everything just buckled," Nowicki said. "The next thing I knew, I was on the ground. I knew right away something was up, and I knew it wasn't going to be good."

Nowicki had surgery soon after getting hurt, but he was determined to stick with his team. He embraced the role of captain and came to as many practices as his physical therapy sessions would allow. He made it a point, though, to be on the sideline during games.

Wearing his black Fallston warm-up jacket, he did what he could to help the Cougars. Nowicki often talked to players coming off the field, encouraging them and offering input and analysis. He also helped Hoover in other ways.

"I couldn't do anything on the field, and I knew that rather than just moan about it and complain, I just dealt with it and did the best I could off the field to help the players on the field," Nowicki said.

Nowicki modeled his behavior after what he saw from Brian Stromberg -- Andy's older brother -- three years ago.

Brian Stromberg also tore his ligament in that season's opening game, he was also a captain and he stayed around the team to do what he could. After Nowicki was injured last season, Stromberg called and urged him to stay with the team.

"He [Nowicki] was a captain whether he was playing or not playing," Hoover said. "It just happened that he couldn't play. He wanted to maintain and be a part of the team and would help ... if needed."

Nowicki began working at getting back on the field. He plays for the Baltimore Bays United club team year-round, and their season starts in November. Nowicki missed a large chunk of their schedule but returned to the field in April, six months after surgery.

Nowicki kept Hoover updated on his progress. Hoover said he had no doubt Nowicki would return and made him a captain again this season.

By the time Fallston began practicing in August, Nowicki said his injury had almost healed. He battled some nerves the first time he went for a 50-50 ball with the Bays, but came away just fine. The jitters returned before Fallston's season opener, because it was nearly a year to the day of his injury.

"The first game was probably the most difficult," Nowicki said. "It was [tough], but I knew if I got through it that a good season would follow."

Nowicki took a little while to find his timing but scored all five of his goals in a three-game stretch against North East-Cecil, Aberdeen and Rising Sun two weeks ago.

He got his first career hat trick in a 4-1 victory over Aberdeen. Nowicki didn't get any points in last week's 2-1 win over Harford Tech, but Cobras coach Andy Bleichfeld said the senior looked good to him.

"I think any team would love to have him," Bleichfeld said.

Nowicki is proud that he returned after surgery, months of physical therapy and plenty of work. Nowicki's interest in studying physical therapy is another good thing to come from an experience that started badly but ended on a positive note.

"I think everything happens for a reason," Nowicki said. "What happened there made me the person I am today, regardless of sitting out for a year. I can learn a lot from it, and I'm moving forward."

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