Tears welled in her eyes as she walked off the field unprompted and without asking — just walked off.
Playing in Denver for her club team, Kansas Rush, Taryn Lubbers couldn’t take the pain in her knee any longer. She cried as she left the pitch, wondering how she was going to continue playing not only in the tournament but the rest of her career.
“I don’t think I can do this,” Lubbers remembers thinking.
That was ahead of her freshman season at Bishop Carroll, but she went on to play that year and the next. She helped the Golden Eagles to back-to-back third-place state finishes in Class 5A and was even named a team captain in 2018 as a sophomore.
Finally, more than two years after she walked off that field in Denver with tears rolling down her face, Lubbers had surgery to alleviate chronic patellar tendonosis in her knee. But that was only a third of the problems Lubbers has faced in the past 10 months.
In May, she suffered a hip avulsion fracture. The muscle and tendon attached to her hip pulled away from the bone.
In June, she underwent surgery on her left knee.
And in August, she had another surgery to repair a broken fibula, tibia and torn medial ligament in her ankle. That was the worst of them all, Lubbers said. Ten screws and a metal plate were inserted in her left leg.
But on March 19, just seven months after her final surgery, Lubbers was introduced as a junior midfielder in the starting lineup at home against Trinity Academy in Bishop Carroll’s 2019 season opener. Her doctors had told her that her recovery would take at least nine months, and perhaps a year.
Carroll coach Greg Rauch said he was amazed to find out she could play again so soon.
“She is the bionic woman,” he said. “Frankly I had zero belief that she would play at all this season. When I got that call from her mom, I said, ‘OK, now we have to learn to play without Taryn.’ “
Lubbers said she spent countless hours with her trainer and physical therapist. She was at every offseason conditioning session and would ask permission to leave for physical therapy. Rauch said he was stunned she was even at conditioning to begin with.
“I said, ‘I love you, kid, but you don’t have to be here,’ “ Rauch said. “And she said, ‘I’m going to be here.’ “
Most of that therapy became mental: being able to run, cut, jump and shoot. Lubbers said it’s an ongoing process, but when she gets onto the pitch, adrenaline, muscle memory and joy take over.
Lubbers, who is verbally committed to Kansas State, doesn’t need to impress anyone else. She has Division I talent. And with such injuries mounting, some players would have shut down their high school careers, Rauch said.
“I was captain last year, so I felt a responsibility to come back,” she said. “I want to help this team get back to state and be a part of that.”
Kansas State has tapped a pipeline from Bishop Carroll. While the KSU program is still in its infancy, having launched just a few years ago, it provides in-state players another means of reaching the next level.
One of last year’s senior standouts at Carroll, Maguire Sullivan, just finished her first season at K-State. She played in 11 games and started five. Lubbers was Carroll’s second K-State pledge, and freshman goalkeeper Madi Wingler is already verbally committed, too.
Sullivan said she would like to think her decision helped make Lubbers’ easier. When she learned Lubbers would be her teammate again soon, she was thrilled.
“She has always given 100 percent to everything, so her being on the field is definitely benefiting Bishop Carroll this year even if she’s not to her full potential yet,” she said. “Her fighting through her injuries and being determined and saying, ‘Even if I’m not completely there yet, I’m going to still play and give it my all,’ is a true testament to her character.
“I don’t think you can give up on something if you love it enough, and obviously she does. She’s out there playing with three injuries within 10 months.”
Sullivan said she helped Lubbers through the string of injuries. There certainly were hard days, she said.
Another source of support was another former teammate, Hanleigh Allen, who suffered more injuries than just about anyone else who’s come through the Carroll soccer program.
Last season, Allen fractured her foot. She got healthy and played a month of high school soccer before tearing ligaments in her ankle. She healed up again and started her career at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. In her first home game, she tore her ACL. Only recently was she medically cleared.
Lubbers said watching Allen come back from injury after injury reminded her that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Together, Sullivan and Allen formed one of the most dynamic duos in Kansas. Sullivan made The Eagle’s All-Metro team, and Allen would have, too, if not for her injuries.
When Allen heard about Lubbers’ hip avulsion, she thought it would be nothing more than a speed bump. When it came time for knee surgery, Allen thought it would hold her back a bit but was nothing Lubbers couldn’t handle.
When Lubbers sufferd her leg and ankle injury, Allen’s heart sank. She knew what her friend was feeling.
“Me and Taryn have gone through the same struggle,” she said. “I told her, ‘The first few weeks of your injury are going to be the worst because your whole world just gets rocked, but you just have to make it through those couple weeks.’
“It sucks so much to be hurt, but I have a person to lean on, too.”
Golden Eagles teammates used to joke that Allen had “Hanleigh-itis,” because every time she got back to full health ... another injury. Allen quips today that Lubbers must’ve contracted it.
Allen told Lubbers that was the kind of lightheartedness she needed to get through such a serious situation.
Now that Allen and Sullivan have moved on from the Carroll program, Lubbers is the one the Golden Eagles turn to, Rauch said. She is poised in the midfield, rarely loses possession and almost always picks the right pass.
Lubbers knows how important her role is on the pitch, she said. That’s what made her return this spring so much sweeter.
“I’m honestly just super grateful that I’m even able to play right now,” she said. “I knew I’d come back pretty quickly, but not this fast.”