Former Pam Pack forward works toward return to soccer

Published 1:14 pm Thursday, June 11, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS FALLING SHORT: Alana Jefferson, Harley Hudson and Christian Heggie, who was injured in the fourth round game against Carrboro, accept the runner-up trophy at last year’s 2-A girls’ soccer state championship.

FALLING SHORT: Alana Jefferson, Harley Hudson and Christian Heggie, who was injured in the fourth round game against Carrboro, accept the runner-up trophy at last year’s 2-A girls’ soccer state championship.

GREENSBORO — Shots rained down on goalkeeper Emily Alligood as Washington exhaustively fought for its playoff survival. For most of the match, visiting Carrboro had controlled the tempo, dominated the possession, tallied double-digit shots and limited the host to one opportunity at net.

Yet, with a place in the 2014 2-A eastern regional championship on the line, it was the Pam Pack that held a 1-0 advantage heading into the final 10 minutes. Then, it happened.

The state’s leading scorer, senior Christian Heggie, found a rare break in a lock-tight defense, dribbled up the center of the field and fell to the ground. As she grasped her knee and writhed in pain, the screaming fans were brought to an unbroken silence.

“All I remember is me and this girl were running toward the ball,” Heggie said in an interview with the Daily News last June. “I tipped the ball to clear it away. Then, it popped … I’ve never felt that kind of pain. I could still hear the pop ringing in my ear afterwards.”

Washington had won the game, but lost its star — a historic season cut short by a torn ligament in Heggie’s right knee. Her 55 goals obliterated the Washington single-season record and still ranks 22nd on the NCHSAA all-time single-season scoring list. But the injury would haunt the Pam Pack two games later in the state championship.

With Heggie and Isabella Mayo, coach Ed Rodriguez’s other striker, sidelined with injuries, Washington was without a catalyst, systematically working the ball through the midfield with no one on the other end. A depleted bench and an inability to finish, mixed with 90-degree temperatures, cost the Pam Pack a championship, a 2-0 loss to West Stokes.

“It was one of the worst things, literally one of the worst things,” Heggie said. “Just to get the whole way there and not being able to compete in it was really tough. There were a lot of opportunities in the game that the team was really confused on. The other seniors and our captains, Harley (Hudson) and Alana (Jefferson), I could tell they were getting really frustrated.”

For Heggie, the setback was particularly disheartening. It marked her second knee injury in two years, as a knee-to-knee collision capped her 2013 campaign at 12 games and 10 goals. She picked up right where she left off in 2014, tallying eight goals in her first three games, but would again fall victim to an internal knee injury.

Earlier in that soccer season, the senior striker had earned and accepted a spot on the Guilford College soccer team, a Division III institution coming off a 4-15 season. Head coach Mike Shenigo had recruited Heggie in hopes of injecting life into his program. But with Heggie’s injury erasing her freshman campaign and putting her collegiate career in jeopardy, Guilford would battle through another disappointing and tumultuous season in 2014.

A full year has passed since the Carrboro game and with it, hours upon hours of rigorous physical therapy, weight training and mental anguish. Through it all, the former Pam Pack standout has remained focused on returning to the pitch.

“Mentally, I’m trying to be really positive about it,” Heggie said. “It’s really difficult still with certain things that hurt to do, or with things I would have easily been able to do before my injury that now are difficult. Getting back into a rhythm, my mentality is definitely kind of low. It’s really hard, but I’m getting there.”

With the injury still fresh in her mind, the light pain and minor inflammation are constant reminders of what was, her historic season, and what could have been, a state championship. Now she’s looking towards the future, nearing the end of what’s been a time-consuming process and working towards her return to competitive soccer.

Following the state championship, Heggie spent the summer in Greenville, working with physical therapists to gain support in her knee. Once she attended Guilford in the fall, the intensity of the physical therapy increased — demanding hour sessions, two or three times a week. In Greensboro, the focus was to build muscle strength, gain confidence and get back in playing shape.

This spring, Heggie was cleared to conduct practice with the Quakers team, where she participated in drills and even an alumni friendly. She’s joining her teammates in summer workouts — individual instructional packets that outline juggling, endurance exercises and a lifting regiment — while mentally preparing to face a higher level of competition.

“It was obviously very frustrating to not be able to help,” Heggie said. “Getting back and people seeing me play, I feel like I’ve gained a little bit of respect and they have some faith in my, so that was nice.”

“Some of the goals I set were that I want to try to get in better shape than I was before I had my injury. I want to try to get my left and right foot back. Then, confidence … My confidence will be really low probably, but I’m going to work this summer to gain that back and do my best to help the team out.”

Guilford College kicks off the 2015 soccer season with an exhibition game against Laurel College on Aug. 22 before the official home opener against N.C. Wesleyan on Sept. 1.