By Jake Knabel, Director of Athletic Communications
She knew the feeling all too well. There she sat, thinking the end had come to an injury-riddled collegiate career. Yet another knee injury had sidelined Katrina Muther just three days into 2014 preseason camp. Life had unforgivingly rocked the Illinois native who had already endured two recent surgeries to repair ACL tears.
“I was just really surprised (when I got injured) because I came in and I was ready,” Muther said. “I was fit and my knee didn’t hurt or anything. I was just surprised. I was shocked actually. I thought it was going to be the end. It was hurting and we didn’t know what it was for a little bit. I was like, ‘It’s my ACL. I’m done.’”
Less than a year later those frustrations have been alleviated. Her right knee, the source of so much pain and anguish, had healed up in time for Muther to play a key role in the greatest season in the history of Concordia women’s soccer. For the first time as a Bulldog, Muther finished a season healthy after working her way back from the August meniscus tear.
Perhaps it was the right time for Muther, psychology and behavioral science degrees in hand by May 2015, to ride off into the sunset. Her undergrad was complete. But her soccer career? Well something still felt incomplete on that front.
Three major knee injuries and a cranky ankle held ‘Kat,’ as she’s often affectionately called by teammates, out of roughly 40 games from 2011 to 2014. She redshirted the 2012 season after a second ACL tear to her right knee. Long story short, she’s coming back for 2015.
“I ended up missing over a month of this past season,” Muther said. “I had time to think about what I wanted. Here I was having another season taken away from me – or at least a good chunk of it. I think seeing my teammates play so hard and seeing the girls on the team we had – I knew that I was going to miss that. I felt like I had a huge chunk of my career taken away from me. I wanted that back.”
Head coach Greg Henson, who enters his third season at Concordia in 2015, simply presented Muther with the facts while hoping to keep the Rockford native in the program. He knew her return could help lessen the blow of the departures of graduating all-conference seniors in the form Rachel Mussell, Marcie Sindt and Melissa Stine.
Just how important is Muther to Concordia’s success, you ask? Upon her 2014 return on Sept. 27 versus Morningside, the Bulldogs rattled off a program record unbeaten streak of 13-straight games. The only loss Concordia suffered with Muther in the lineup at right back came on Nov. 22 at the opening round of the national tournament.
“She’s essentially a two-year starter for us,” Henson said. “She’s a stabilizing force after losing such a large senior class. Having her back is a big key for us moving forward. She’s a very important piece as we transition without several key players. We’re going to have 23 total freshmen and sophomores on the roster so having that veteran leadership is important for us.”
A more in-depth look at Muther reveals exactly what kind of leader she is. Highly-respected by teammates, Kat has done more than simply fight through injury. She’s found her calling in social work and is currently employed by Jenda Family Services in Lincoln. She has already begun working with children who have suffered through abuse and/or neglect.
It’s a rewarding venture for the grad student-to-be, who will pursue a master’s in family life from Concordia.
“It’s very apparent how much your childhood affects your life,” Muther said. “A lot of these kids have gone through a lot of trauma. To help them understand what they’re going through and know that a lot of what’s happening to them isn’t their fault, and help them realize that they have a lot of worth is rewarding. What has happened to them doesn’t define them. I think that’s huge for a child to recognize that and know that and have a parent figure in their lives.”
Muther will cut back on her hours at Jenda once camp begins this August. She will then focus on soccer and online graduate courses that allow her to work at her own pace as well as the freedom to complete school work away from Seward.
It will be a new experience for Kat, who is running, lifting and attending training sessions this summer alongside her job at Jenda. Things will really heat up in just a couple of short months when the 2015 Bulldogs make their debut. From a personal standpoint, Muther just wants to be able to suit up for each and every game.
“It would be really exciting,” Muther said. “I watch my teammates do that every year. Playing every game in a season I’m sure is really taxing, but I want to be able to say that I did that. I want to be with my teammates and not spend part of my season on the sidelines.”
Now looking forward to a fifth year at Concordia, Muther wouldn’t have dreamt of spending more than half a decade at a place she initially thought of as a fallback option. Her parents went to Concordia, but she swore she would go elsewhere.
But few things have worked out as expected for Muther, who says Concordia was her “fate.” Who would have guessed someone who, pre-college, had never dealt with an injury more severe than a broken toe would be relegated to the bench more often than not? And who expected the Bulldogs to win a GPAC tournament title and reach the national tournament last fall? That’s what we thought.
“What we did last season was such a fun ride,” Muther said. “I saw that happening and thought, ‘I can’t miss this.’ I’m not ready for it to end. I want to stick with my teammates and see what else we can accomplish.
“What I heard from a lot of people was, ‘Go for it. You’re never going to get this opportunity again.’ This opportunity to compete and to work with a team towards a goal and to do something I love stuck in my mind. It’s an opportunity I won’t get again.”
Ending up at Concordia
My parents went here so I was like, ‘Concordia is the last place I’m ever going to go.’ I started applying at places and this was a school I had originally as a safety school. I had friends here like Dawn Martin (former women's basketball player). One day she texted me that she was sitting at the table with the soccer girls and you’d love them. I trusted Dawn.
I fought it hard, but I’m so glad I went. I don’t know why I ever tried to stay away. I knew it was my fate.
Overcoming thoughts of injury
For me my worst enemy was in my head. Sometimes I would make a tackle or fall and I’d have that ‘oh dang look on my face.’ Like am I OK? Then I’d keep going. There were times I wasn’t confident in my knee. I had spent two years injured. It was great having Coach and my teammates to help me rebuild that confidence. I ended up transitioning out of the knee brace. I think once the knee brace was gone I had so much more freedom. I wasn’t thinking about it all the time. I think last year when I came back from playing I had that freedom too because I knew it could be my last season. I was ready to compete and contribute to the team. We always joked about it at the beginning of the season like, ‘we’re going to go to nationals. We’re going to nationals.’ Then all of a sudden that dream started to become real for us. We ended up doing it, which was awesome. We all thought it was off the radar. Day one of practice we were joking about that. I guess we shouldn’t have been joking about it.
Thinking about return for fifth year
My freshman year I tore my ACL. Then my sophomore year I tore my ACL. Sophomore year is when I red-shirted. That gave me the opportunity for another year in the future if I wanted it. At the time I wasn’t sure. At the end of my junior year Coach was asking me if I thought I was going to want to stay an extra season. I told him, ‘I don’t know. It depends.’ It had been in my mind since junior year, trying to make that decision. It was this season, my senior year and Coach really wanted an answer. I still wasn’t sure because I didn’t have any undergraduate classes left. Then someone mentioned to me that you could play as a grad student so that sparked my interest. This season it was three days into preseason and I tore my meniscus so I was out. During that time I was frustrated because I was having another surgery. It pushed me a lot more to think about what I wanted to do. I ended up missing over a month of this season. I had time to think about what I wanted. Here I was having another season taken away from me – or at least a good chunk of it. I think seeing my teammates play so hard and seeing the girls on the team we had – I knew that I was going to miss that. I felt like I had a huge chunk of my career taken away from me. I wanted that back. Hopefully I can go through an entire season without getting hurt for the first time and playing with my teammates and having that experience. What we did this season was such a fun ride. I saw that happening and thought, ‘I can’t miss this.’ I’m not ready to give that up. I want to stick with my teammates and see what else we can accomplish.