By SARA RITTLEMEYER
On June 15, Mary Washington junior Ryan Taibl chased a ball trickling toward the opposing 18-yard line during a summer league game. The other team’s keeper was after the same ball. But when Taibl planted his foot to strike the ball, his lower right shin was slammed by the keeper’s left knee.
“I flipped over him,” Taibl said. “And I knew something was injured. I hoped it was just a small ankle injury, but I wouldn’t be so lucky.” Taibl, a business major at UMW, went into shock initially after the injury.
“The gross part was I looked down and saw the bottom of my cleat,” Taibl said. Before an ambulance reached the soccer field, trainers checked for further severity. “That’s when it started to hurt, a lot,” Taibl said.
Taibl’s tibia was broken in two places broke and his fibula in one. On June 16, Taibl went into surgery to insert a 10 inch titanium rod, including four pins, two in his knee and two in his ankle.
The surgery was only scheduled to be two hours long. It turned out to be a four and a half hours because doctors were unaware that there was a 5 centimeter long piece of Taibl’s tibia that had to be removed.
Now, Taibl must go to the athletic trainer at Mary Washington three times a week where he is rehabbing his ankle and knee. He works on strengthening exercises as well as an intense amount of stretching.
Unable to even begin jogging until Sept. 15, Taibl’s season was over before preseason even began. He is red shirting and is forced to watch the team play while he is sidelined with boot and crutches close by.
“Its good to be part of the team because some of my best friends are a part of the team, and I live with all of them,” Taibl said. “It sucks not being able to play but it makes me look forward to next year and it pushes me to recover faster.”
Last season, Taibl was the Eagles’ leading scorer, with 10 goals, two of which were game-winners, and three assists. He was also named the 2007 All-South Region men’s soccer team by D3Kicks.com as well as being named to the National Soccer Coaches Association’s all-region team.
“Oh no,” was men’s soccer coach Roy Gordon’s first thought when he found out Taibl was injured.
“Ryan was our leading goal getter last year and a catalyst for much of what we were able to accomplish offensively in 2007,” Gordon said. “ I worried about how we would replace him.”
Gordon decided to meet the new season with a fresh new mindset.
“We started the season without having him on the field so, in many ways, it was like what we go through every year when we have to replace graduating seniors who have had an impact on the team,” Gordon said.
Coach Gordon was not the only one who received the bad news this summer and began to worry about the future season.
“Going into the year we needed someone else to step up since we lost our leading goal scorer,” said junior goalkeeper Emmett Rutkowski.
The Eagles re-worked their offense to fill the role left behind by Taibl from the previous season. Gordon’s new tactics highlight the strengths of other key players on the team.
“Last season, we may have ultimately relied on him so much that if he were stymied by the opponent on a given day, we struggled,” Gordon said. “What we are doing now is much more balanced so that when Ryan returns next season, my hope is that he can be even more effective because we will have developed other ways to be successful and teams will not be able to key on him so much.”
Taibl’s support system, including teammates, family and friends, would be incomplete with out the support from his mother, whom he is extremely close to.
“Obviously, I am very upset that Ryan is injured,” said Sandy Hoppe, Taibl’s mother, “but I expect the team to still do well and I am still rooting for the boys.”
Taibl has a long road to recovery ahead of him.
“The ultimate test that will show that I can play again is if I can jump up and down on one foot,” Taibl said.
Doctors hope to clear him to begin sprinting and making cutting movements by Dec. 15. “I should be able to start playing hard about a month after that,” Taibl said. “So by mid-January I should be back on the field, and I can’t wait.”