NEW LONDON, Conn.-The most dreaded acronym as it relates to sports injuries is A.C.L. Some athletes are fortunate enough to never have to suffer through an ACL tear; however, some others aren't so lucky.
Senior women's soccer back and tri-captain Emily Marks was dealt a devastating hand on Thursday, September 12th against Nichols College when she tore her ACL, ending her final season, following a trip from behind. It was the second time she suffered the injury, bookending her career at the Academy.
Her interest in the Service Academies was piqued during her freshman year at Council Rock North High School in Newtown, Pennsylvania. She wanted to do something different from her friends back home, "I was never really interested in partying or being part of the sorority atmosphere," she said, "the regimented lifestyle appealed to me and after coming home from AIM, I just felt right at home at Coast Guard."
Her feeling of home at the Academy was so strong that it was the only school that she applied to. During her senior season at Council Rock North High School in Newtown, Pennsylvania, Marks was injured in the same way on a very similar play. Through rehab and surgery she was cleared to resume athletic activity heading into her Swab Summer.
Unfortunately, that clearance would be short-lived. Despite trying to make her way through the remaining pain and instability in her knee, she was unable to make it through much of the summer. As a result, she was given a one year deferral.
She ventured home following this new setback, however, cognizant of the fact that she had only applied to one school, Marks as the uncertainty of what would come next for her began to set in. She eventually enrolled at a community college for a year and took a break from playing soccer.
After being delayed for a year, Marks would return to the Academy in the summer of 2010, and after completing her summer training would immediately step into a starting role for the Bears.
Marks has anchored the Coast Guard defense since her arrival at the Academy in 2010. The Bears posted six wins (the program's most since 2003) during her freshman year. The team has grown more competitive since the arrival of that class, playing many one-goal games against the ever-impressive depth and quality of the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC).
The program has evolved and the culture has shifted over the past few years. In the early years of the program up through 2012, team cohesion and chemistry had largely been lacking. Marks says that's changing though, "with the new Adidas sponsorship and the decision to travel out of region for an early season tournament, team chemistry has never been better and everyone is closer than they have been in my four years."
The team's preseason goal is to qualify for the NEWMAC Tournament and that hasn't changed, according to Marks, who says while they maintain that goal they also have another goal, "we want to play well in the conference, and turn those close games to our favor and experience better results." Rather than taking moral victories out of narrow losses, she seems to think the time is now to take that next step and take tangible victories out of wins.
Prior to the injury, Marks occupied a key spot, playing the sweeper position for seventh-year head coach Susan Grant. A self-admitted quiet personality off the pitch doesn't prevent her from being a vocal leader during competition, "I'm not the loudest by any stretch, but when I'm on the field I feel a need to take on a more vocal role."
That tone that she set in the backfield early in the season has paid dividends for the Bears. "After I got hurt, everyone has worked together to fill in and the girls are playing as well as ever, especially Judy (Hooymans) moving into the sweeper role and Mo (Moira Meek) played great the other night too," says Marks.
Statistically there's no question that the team is playing great defensively as they've posted a 1.00 goals against average so far, far and away the best mark in school history, and opposing teams are only averaging 3.86 shots on goal per game.
While the numbers seemingly back up Marks' modesty, the sentiments in the locker room and in Coach Grant's office are decidedly different.
Coach Grant speaks very highly of her senior tri-captain, saying that she's been a passionate, self-motivated, and disciplined player all four years at the Academy. "Her work ethic is top-notch, and her teammates have always fed off of her drive and focus. She has been such an incredible asset to this program and the team (as a soccer player and as a leader)."
Senior goalkeeper Devin Fellman may have said it best about Marks and her ability to lead, an ability which isn't present in everyone. "Em has the natural ability to lead people with her commitment, determination, and passion on and off the field. Sometimes as college student-athletes, we forget that our first responsibility as a cadet is service to our country. I know Em will use this situation to do just that, lead and serve her country."
Fellman seemingly echoes the attitude of the whole team as they have her back, knowing she has theirs, "the team will support her every step of the way and I have no doubt that when we step onto the field to compete, Em's passion for the game and determination to win will be seen in all of us."
Her experience would undoubtedly be preferred on the field but she's also going to be a resource on the sideline for the younger players on the squad. While she still sees herself more as a player than a coach/mentor, Marks says, "I'm always going to be ready to give advice and help especially to the defenders."
Marks has definitely embraced the leadership role she has stepped into, and according to her, nothing as far as her approach and leadership is going to change. She's going to continue to cheer on her teammates and be supportive from the sidelines as the Bears make a push for the post-season.
Having already gone through the process of rehabbing, Marks is anxious to move her focus to her academic and Coast Guard careers. The surgery and rehab will be happening soon and she's determined to get through that process to avoid any further delay in graduating and moving on to her career in the Coast Guard.
Coach Grant knows the team will miss her, however, she is confident that Marks will come through the rehab process well, saying, "Her absence on the field for the rest of the season is so greatly missed. I am extremely confident that Emily will use all those same qualities that set her apart on the field in her rehabilitation process."
Grant continued by saying that, "Emily is a true warrior, as she has proven before, and she will face this injury head on. She will push herself during physical therapy, going the extra mile, so that she is ready to walk across the graduation stage in May, to receive her commission for the U.S. Coast Guard."
Her experience at the Academy and dealing with the adversity of injuries will definitely have a profound impact on her after graduating. "With this being the second time going through the process I definitely have a different, much more positive outlook," she said, before continuing, "It's helped me to learn to cope with adversity. I've learned things don't always work out and you can't foresee the curveballs that get thrown your way in life but I'm going to take what I've learned and use it to help me lead."