Brandt recovers from second ACL tear for Gophers

Steph Brandt has rebounded from major injuries in time for senior year.

Gophers forward Steph Brandt attempts to take the ball away from San Diego on Sept. 5, 2010, at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.

Daily File Photo, Mark Vancleave

Gophers forward Steph Brandt attempts to take the ball away from San Diego on Sept. 5, 2010, at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.

Jace Frederick

The scoring play seemed rather ordinary.

Senior forward Steph Brandt finished a cross Sunday to give the Gophers a 2-0 lead against the Jacksonville Dolphins.

Yes, everything about the play was fairly ordinary — except the person who scored the goal.

There is nothing ordinary about Brandt and her perseverance.

Her goal Sunday was the first since returning from an anterior cruciate ligament tear in her right knee. Brandt tore the ACL last September — 11 months after tearing the same ligament in her other knee.

It was Aug. 30, 2012. The Gophers were in the midst of a 7-0 rout over Bowling Green.

Dave Brandt, Steph’s father, wasn’t in attendance when his daughter injured her ACL a year earlier, but he said he remembers the second time vividly.

“She was making a cut toward the net for a header on a crossing pass,” Dave Brandt said. “We saw [the knee] go, and we saw the expression on her face, and we immediately knew that she was in trouble again.”

Brandt stayed on the field for about a minute. After leaving the field she looked at the team’s trainer and uttered “déjà vu.”

But even after experiencing a second run-in with an injury that requires a grueling rehab, Brandt never considered giving up her sport. She knew she was coming back for her senior year.

“I just couldn’t imagine stopping early,” she said. “I just think it always would have been in the back of my mind … ‘Why did I ever give up that opportunity?’”

The forward attacked her recovery immediately, her father said.

“She was committed to working hard and coming back again,” Dave Brandt said. “There was no ‘poor me’ stage.”

Though Brandt was not fit to play, her father said Gophers head coach Stefanie Golan asked his daughter to travel with the team for the rest the 2012 season.

Brandt said her teammates supported her and kept her positive throughout the recovery process. And Dave Brandt said he thinks the team travel motivated his daughter.

“I think that kept that bond with [the team],” he said. “It reminded Steph that [her coach] very much wanted her to stay with the team and play again.”

Brandt said the recovery from her second ACL injury went faster, because she knew the ins and outs of recovery.

“I was able to simplify it down a lot more,” she said. “It’s a bad thing to be a veteran of, but it does help.”

Brandt said the six-to eight-month process was gradual.

She said she appreciated the minor successes of being able to jog, jump and run, until she was finally ready to resume soccer activities.

Brandt said hitting the field after her first ACL tear was a “smooth transition,” but it was different this time.

“I was a little bit scared. I didn’t trust my knee,” she said. “That was probably the hardest part about the second time around.”

“I think because you’ve seen it happen twice, you know there’s always a chance that it happens again.”

Her parents shared the same concern.

“Our priority has always been that she goes out and plays well, helps the team, scores goals,” Brandt’s father said. “And now our priority is … we hope she goes out and stays healthy.”

Brandt said a third knee injury would mean the end of her career.

She said that risk weighed in her mind during the first few games of 2013, causing Brandt to play timidly. But now she’s starting to feel comfortable, and it’s showing in her play.

“[She] is proving to be an effective attacking player for us once again,” Golan said in a release.

As the Gophers head into their Big Ten opener with Indiana on Saturday, Brandt said being back on the pitch makes her recoveries from both knee injuries worth the struggle.

“There [have] definitely been moments when I’m like, ‘Yes. I’m so glad I did all this,’” Brandt said. “Who knows where I’d be if I didn’t have soccer.”