MARICOPA — For many athletes this time of year, excitement is high as they sign to play college ball at a whole new level and location. For Payson Hacker, it is all the more so because she is just thrilled to play at all.
The Maricopa High School soccer player is still recovering from a devastating ACL injury that wiped out her entire senior season. After going through the physical pain of the injury and the emotional pain of having to watch her teammates from the sideline, Hacker has signed to play the game she loves at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.
The moment she steps on the field for the Skyhawks will be a momentous occasion for Hacker, since her last time playing soccer was in October. She tore her ACL in a non-contact injury while playing for her club team. She had surgery a couple weeks later, and everything went well to make sure she could make it on the field again.
The injury didn’t affect her ability to sign on with the school that she had been in contact with since before the injury.
“(Head coach Damian Clarke) was very open about me joining the team still, because he had someone do the same thing,” Hacker said. “He didn’t want to take advantage of me because of my injury.”
Within a few weeks, she should be able to start running again, with eyes set on a September return to the soccer pitch. That couldn’t come too soon, since two weeks after the injury she was starting to miss everything about the game, even the running.
This was the first serious injury Hacker has suffered in all her time playing soccer, which she started when she was 4 years old. In fact, she thinks she has only missed two games her whole life due to injury. Since then, it’s been loads and loads of physical therapy twice a week to get to where she is now.
“Don’t take anything for granted, because it can all be taken away just like that,” Hacker said. “It just shows me how much I love this sport and how much I want to get back to it.”
The timing was unfortunate for someone who has given so much to the girls soccer program to miss her senior year. But she got over the disappointment enough to be a vocal member of the Rams sideline. She said her teammates, including her sister McKinley, welcomed her as if she was playing everyday.
To do her part, Hacker tried to take a role as an assistant coach of sorts, helping to guide the younger players through the rigors of a season. With a lot of freshmen on varsity, she found the role to be fulfilling because it helped get them integrated into the program.
According to her mother Angela, the whole family was upset not to see the sisters play together one more year, but she’s been proud of the way Hacker lifted herself up immediately to move on to recovery.
“It was probably harder on Mike and I because it was all we’ve known is going to her games,” Angela said. “I was 100% looking forward to this, especially this high school season, because they had some serious potential to be a major threat in the region.”
Now, Hacker can leave the program knowing that the program has come very far her four years. Her freshman year was the first team in a while with any playoff experience, and since then they’ve tried to raise the bar even higher.
Thanks to the Maricopa United club that has brought more and more girls into the sport from a young age, there is a lot more skill on display. Hacker remembers when only her and one other girl had club experience on the varsity level. Now almost everyone does.
And she feels like the program is being left in good hands with a coach like Cortney Kellenaers in charge. Even without their co-captain, the Rams won a playoff game for the first time in many years. With him in charge, she knows there is someone who cares to take her sister and the other teammates forward.
“I want them to have fun, but also to take it very seriously,” Hacker said. “That’s what I did. I had fun with it, but I’m a very competitive person, so I want things to be done right.”