By Stayson Isobe, NAU Media Relations
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Coming back from one major injury is always a tough recovery for an athlete to make in a career. Two major injuries is even tougher...but four? That's what NAU women's soccer sophomore defender Kathryn Wertz has gone through and battled back from in her Lumberjack career, and it hasn't been an easy task.
"It's not easy, but I've had a lot of support from my teammates and family," Wertz said. "Our training program has done a really good job with my physical therapy and I just kept at it. I kept plugging along."
Wertz, a 2008 graduate of Flagstaff High School, was a standout for the Eagles in high school, garnering All-Region honors all four years and being named to the All-State first team in the coaches' poll in 2007. She also helped her team to win two Arizona 4A II State Championships during her junior and senior years and showed Division I collegiate potential according to her high school coach and current NAU assistant coach Holly Jones.
"The biggest thing that I always noticed with Kathryn was her leadership and her work ethic everyday," Jones said. "She did whatever it took to improve and that's why I realized that her soccer career would continue into the collegiate level. She always wanted to learn and improve."
Yet despite being born and raised in Flagstaff, NAU wasn't always Wertz's first choice for school.
"I was dead set on not going to NAU," Wertz said. "Then during my senior year of high school, I fell in love with Flagstaff again and I didn't want to leave."
Her career at NAU didn't get off to the start she would've hoped for, as she had to redshirt her first season at the mountain campus due to a stress fracture in the navicular bone in her left foot. Then during the summer going into her second year, the team fortunately caught a stress fracture in her right foot in time and she was able to make her Lumberjack debut in 2009. She appeared in nine games with seven starts and scored one goal, a game-winner in a 3-1 victory over New Mexico State.
But just when she thought her career was set to take off, Wertz suffered another setback, this time tearing the ACL in her right knee a month after the 2009 season ended. After months of rehab, she re-tore the ACL a mere four days before the 2010 preseason, forcing her to utilize her medical redshirt last season.
"I wish every player that played at NAU had the same spirit and determination that Kathryn has displayed," said head coach Andre Luciano. "She's the type of kid that you always want to have on your team. She's battled through so many adversities and she's always remained so positive, which is the mark of a great human being."
Her perseverance to battle back from adversity isn't lost on her teammates either, even though she wasn't able to play during her two redshirt seasons.
"I really admire her resilience and hard work," said senior forward Jenna Samora, Wertz's roommate of two years. "Every injury she got, she worked through it and found a way to come back. Unfortunately last year she wasn't able to play on the field and she wasn't traveling with us, but she was such a positive part of the team. We knew she was always looking out for us and worried about how we're doing as a team. She's a great teammate."
This season, with her injuries behind her after missing two of the last three years, Wertz has been an integral part of a rebuilt Lumberjack defensive backline, which had to replace three starters from last year's lineup. Two starters, Kristi Andreassen and Tori Howe, were lost to graduation and a third, Georgia Foltz, suffered a season-ending injury at Southern Utah in the second game of the 2011 season.
Wertz has already surpassed her career games played coming into the season, appearing in all 11 games this year while also earning 10 consecutive starts and tallying one assist and three shots in the process.
"One of the keys for her has been her ability to organize," Luciano said. "She's a good leader in terms of her organization skills. She plays with her heart on her sleeve and you know what you're going to get out of her every single game. It's a new role for her on our team, but she's definitely improving every time she steps on the field."
Now that she's back on the field, Wertz is ready to start fresh.
"My career here obviously hasn't been what I pictured it would be coming in as a freshman," Wertz said. "But now I see the potential of having a regular experience like everyone else, being able to play and actually participate in all of the practices. Just practicing is really fun."
And back on the field is where Luciano expects a healthy Wertz to remain.
"With Kathryn, she's gone through so many injuries that she's just thankful to be playing game to game," Luciano said. "As long as she's healthy, she'll be on the field. I think it's the mark of a champion and a warrior that she's been able to battle through adversities over and over again and remain so positive all the time."
"It's a dream come true," Wertz said. "After going through all of that, and seeing everybody play, I learned not to take it for granted. I have a second chance and not everyone gets that."
More like a fourth or fifth chance, but it's well earned and deserved in Wertz's case.