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Saugus' Stacey Atwater: A winning battle

A broken collarbone didn’t stop Saugus’ Atwater, but it did change her outlook

Posted: February 21, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 21, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Saugus senior striker Stacey Atwater (6) broke her collarbone against West Ranch on Jan. 20, forcing her to miss the final six games of the Foothill League season. She battled back to take part in the Centurions’ first-round playoff win.

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There will always be that one spot on the field for Saugus senior Stacey Atwater.

That one spot where her senior season went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in a matter of seconds.

“I know exactly where the spot is,” she says. “This is where I got hurt. This is where all the pain and all the feelings (happened). I remember the sideline and it’s really weird, all the memories come back.”

The spot, between the 45- and 50-yard lines, just in front of the visitors sideline on the field at Saugus High, is where Atwater was tripped by a West Ranch defender in the final minutes of a win on Jan. 20. She suffered a broken collarbone that caused her to miss the Centurions’ final six league games.

Up to that point, Atwater couldn’t have asked for a better start to her final high school season.

She led the Centurions with 16 goals through the first 12 games, including the eventual game-winner before getting hurt against the Wildcats.

“I felt on top of the line,” she says of the beginning of the season. “I felt great about how I was playing. I thought it would end great, and then the injury happened.”

Atwater spent weeks trying to make sense of the situation.

One step to the right, one quick pass, any little difference and she walks off the field just as she had done for the previous 12 games.

“I was thinking why, really, why me?” Atwater says. “Why’d she have to trip me? Why couldn’t I have passed the ball earlier? I thought about that for two weeks. I was like, why did this happen? Of all the years, it had to be my senior season. I was doubting myself. It was really hard.”

But eventually the whys and the hows gave way to reflection and optimism. The injury could have been worse, she says.

Instead, she was able to rehab, allow the bone to heal and eventually, return to play one more match for Saugus High.

Atwater returned to the field exactly four weeks to the day since she sat in pain on the spot she will never forget.

She logged 65 minutes against Tesoro High in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division I playoffs, and came agonizingly close to scoring a goal when her shot struck off the crossbar.

And while the Centurions went on to win the match in penalty kicks, those were the last minutes Atwater will play in her high school career.

With 10 minutes left in the match, she felt it again.

“I went up against a girl trying to get the ball and using my left shoulder, and I heard a crack,” she says.

But unlike the initially injury, there aren’t any regrets this time around.

Her season may have come to a close, but it came to a close on the soccer field.

“I’m so glad it happened on the soccer field and it wasn’t a stupid injury at school,” she says. “Someone nudging me. I’m so happy it happened on the field.”

In an ironic turn, the injury is the reason Atwater will have plenty more opportunities to take the field after she graduates high school.

Prior to the initial injury, this would have been the end of the line for Atwater — who says she never planned on playing at the collegiate level.

“I already loved the game, but this injury was like, ‘You have to play.’” Atwater says. “Definitely a positive outlook. I’m more happy that I got injured because I’m looking at things in a better perspective.”

Now, she plans to attend College of the Canyons after graduation and will play for the women’s soccer team.

Atwater says she spoke with COC head soccer coach Justin Lundin, who invited her to come to spring practice later this year.

And when she does get to college, Atwater will work to make the team — just like she fought to start for the Centurions.

On a team loaded with talented players, Atwater wasn’t even assured a spot on the team in her junior year.

“We initially had put her up on JV and I pulled her up her first practice,” says Saugus head coach Natalie Helgeson. “First preseason practice, and I said, ‘If you can prove to me you can be a starter, you can stay.’”

Atwater started every game last season, and every game this season except the six missed due to injury.

That will to fight for everything she can get has helped her overcome the mental and physical toll the injury has taken.

And when she walked out to the spot Friday — the first time she had stood there since the injury occurred — the desire to succeed in the sport she loves made it OK.

“At warm-ups, I stood there and was like, ‘Here it is,’” Atwater says. “I just got angry. I got really angry. It pumped me up and I was ready to go.”

And while she won’t be on the field when the Centurions take on San Clemente in the second round Wednesday at San Clemente High, she’s just glad she had one more chance to take the field.

“I never took a break,” she says of her attitude on Friday. “It was perfect.”


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