Campus Currents

Playing a Waiting Game
Surgery threatens to end a talented lacrosse player's careeer

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Back in the Game, photo by Lisa Nugent/UNH Photographic Services BACK IN THE GAME: Beth Stankus '09, far right, waited out an injury to play lacrosse again.

Beth Stankus '09 needed surgery, her doctor said, and as a result, her playing days for the UNH lacrosse team were over.

Staying with the team when you can no longer play is an agonizing predicament for an athlete as competitive as Stankus. But even as she gave the sad news to her coaches and teammates, she knew she wouldnt leave. "They're like family," she says. "It was important to me to stick around."

After surgery in 2008, Stankus returned to practice. Her shoulder blade, which had been injured by a chronically dislocating shoulder, was now reinforced. Forbidden to pick up a stick, she could still run. And when the team started throwing and catching, she circled them again and again on the track.

"You could just tell she wanted to be out there," says head coach Sandy Vander-Heyden Bridgeman '87. "It was something we drew upon last year: 'Play for Beth.'"

Her doctor warned that another injury to the shoulder could limit the use of her right arm the rest of her life. If she had children someday, she might not be able to pick them up.

But this surgery was different from her previous two. "This one just held," she says. "It felt tight and it wasn't coming loose. I felt like I could get some good news out of it."

Stankus rehabbed the shoulder five days a week, and, like all good defenders, she looked to force the issue. "Every time I went to the doctor, I asked, 'When can I play again?'" she recalls.

Considering what was at stake, it was hard for the doctor to give her the green light. But toward the end of the 2008 season he gave her a little light nonetheless. If something was going to compromise the repair to the shoulder, he told her, it would have happened by now.

"Just having that little hope made me so happy," Stankus says. She picked up a stick and started throwing from her left, non injured side. Then she started to catch and throw from her right side. She felt no pain. By the beginning of the 2009 season, she was back on the field.

Fast and tall, Stankus gets into a low crouch on defense and is not afraid to take charges. She was among the leaders this season in groundballs and turnovers, one of six seniors who made up the nucleus of a close-knit team that was all too happy to cheer again for "Stank the Tank."

"The minute she stepped on the field you remembered why she was such an impact player during her early years here," says assistant coach Jess Burnap '05.

In the last home game of the season UNH battled Vermont for an America East tournament berth. Stankus caused two turnovers and scooped up a groundball. The game was supposed to be close, but the Wildcats won 17-4 (improving their season record to 10-6) and started looking forward to another postseason.

"Everything went back to how it was," Stankus says, looking back on 2009. "It was like I never left.:

And of course she never really did.

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