Back Where I Belong

Katina Tsapos

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This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

Soccer is BACK!

People often say you never really appreciate something until it’s gone. Well, soccer was taken from me three times. I’ve torn both of my ACLs, and then, of course, COVID-19 ended things last season.

But I never stopped believing I’d get the chance to finish things on my own terms. I’m pretty sure my first soccer game as a spectator was when I was only two weeks old. I’ve loved the sport from the start, and it has been in my life for as long as I can remember.

Nothing—and I mean nothing—was going to stop me from stepping onto that field again.

When it rains, it pours

I haven’t always been that strong mentally. Honestly, I’d say the two injuries molded me into not only the athlete, but also the person, I am today.

A lot of greater good came from everything. But I still had to go through that journey, and let me tell you something: It wasn’t easy.

I tore my first ACL in my right knee during my sophomore year. It happened when we were training defensive man-marking. I just remember going in for a tackle and hearing a sound I’ll never forget.


I’d never really experienced anything like that before. I wasn’t in an extreme amount of pain from the get-go. So I wasn’t really sure what to expect. At one point, I even talked myself into believing nothing was wrong.

But something was very wrong, as I soon learned after the doctor ran tests. That’s when he told me he was pretty sure I tore my ACL. You never know how you’re going to react when you hear something like that.

For me, however, hearing that news was just heartbreaking.

I was pretty lucky up until that point in never having any serious injuries that kept me off the field. So it was kind of difficult for me, you know? Just figuring out my role on the team when I couldn’t be on the field next to them was tough.

But I was dealing with more than just the injury. I ended up having an allergic reaction to the screw they put in my knee. So six months into my recovery, I was back in the surgery room for the screw to be removed.

For a while there, it just felt like I couldn’t win.

After that surgery, my scar opened and started spitting out pieces of leftover screw parts in my knee. By that point, I didn’t really know how I’d come back, much less if I’d come back.

One injury after another

It took a whole calendar year before I was finally able to step back on the field. But when that moment came, nothing could compare.

I was counting the hours, days, weeks, and months for the moment when I’d be back on the field with my teammates. Just to touch the ball again—up until that point, it was probably one of the best feelings I’d had in my entire life.

But then it happened again a year later.


On one hand, I knew what to expect after going through the first injury, but on the other hand, it was tough because I also knew how hard the journey would be to get back.

I fought my way back before. I could fight my way back again. That was my mentality heading into that recovery. I knew I could get through it if I really wanted to play again.

So it was a much easier process, and the recovery wasn’t quite as long. In fact, the most difficult part was not getting to finish with the girls I started with here at SMU. It was the last year for everyone in my class, and I didn’t get a chance to play with them in their final season.

Along with the coaching staff, those girls were one of the reasons why I signed with the Mustangs. I clicked with them immediately, and we were inseparable. It was tough not being able to finish what we started together.

But I was still determined to get back on the field and end things on my terms.

Besides, I really bonded with Sam (Estrada) during this time who was, unfortunately, also going through the recovery process of an ACL tear. Neither of us obviously wanted this experience, but we really came together and helped each other out. There is always a bright side, you know?

I fought my way back before. I could fight my way back again. That was my mentality heading into that recovery. I knew I could get through it if I really wanted to play again.

The unknown enemy

I thought I might actually have a chance to do that in the 2020 season—until COVID happened.

It was really frustrating because, well, it was different. This time, I hadn’t injured myself or anything like that. No, we all were kept off the field because of outside forces. So it was a different kind of unknown that we all had to fight during that time.

But having a really good group of girls helped me cope with everything—they were the rock that got me through it all.

Mentally, it was draining.

Even before COVID, when I was dealing with the injury, I went back home just to step away for a little while. It got to the point where just being in the locker room made me emotional.

But I made an effort to see the bigger picture, which was just being there and supporting my teammates. I still had a role to play, even if I wasn’t able to physically go out there and help the team compete.

There was definitely some greater good that came out of all of this. Sure, I became a better player, but more importantly, I became a stronger person.

The long-awaited return

The mental piece for me is huge.

I feel like I’m able to push myself harder than I used to. I can also take more mentally—both physically and emotionally. I feel like I’m so much stronger in that sense than I was before that first injury.

I’ve also put on a little muscle. They had me strengthening muscles I didn’t even know I had in physical therapy. It’s no secret that I was one of the smaller players on the team when I first walked through the doors. But I’ve managed to take advantage of the time away due to COVID and injuries to focus on the physical parts of college soccer and improve my strength.

I’ll be honest, my heart sunk into my chest when our first game against Houston Baptist was canceled due to weather. I just kept thinking about everything that had happened—the two knee injuries, the multiple surgeries, and COVID.

Through all of it, I was still here, waiting for my opportunity to get back on that field. So, believe me when I say I didn’t take our first game against Northwestern State the other day for granted. I played that game over and over in my head before my feet even hit the ground.

Ever since I picked up a soccer ball, my goal in life was always to compete at the highest level. And now that I’m finally back out there, I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.