Feature article by Will Tubbs
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - To call freshman Lyndsey Lee's route the Southern Miss women's soccer team circuitous would be an understatement. To call her emergence as a top defender anything other than the epitome of achievement against all odds would be to shortchange the efforts of a player who by all rights should have never logged another minute.
Four years ago, Lee was a freshman standout at Bay St. Louis's Our Lady Academy. As a high school sophomore, the Picayune native began to draw even more attention from college scouts.
But then disaster struck.
She tore her ACL in the first game of her junior year, then suffered the same injury only days after her return to the pitch.
The second injury cost Lee the remainder of her prep career.
"At times, it seemed like the smart thing to do would be quit but I just couldn't," Lee said. "When it's something you've loved your whole life, you can't let an injury stop you."
The odds were long that she'd be able to rehabilitate in time to walk on at any college, much less earn a spot on an NCAA Division I roster. Yet, Lee was undaunted and set about completing the work required to return once again to the game she loves.
"There was a lot of rehab and lots of getting over the injury mentally," Lee said. "I had to regain my confidence in my ability to play at the level I wanted to."
Lee's chances might have been slim, but that was enough to keep her going.
"I knew it was possible," Lee said. "I didn't think it would be easy, but as long as there was the possibility I could come back and play in college, I was going to do everything I could to make it back."
And make it back she did.
However, once Lee was healthy enough to begin practicing again, she faced a new challenge, finding a program that would give her a second thought.
Most programs were not interested in her services.
Southern Miss Coach Mohammed El-Zare, however, was not only willing but excited to give Lee the opportunity she sought.
"As we're building the program and building a culture of honest performance, of doing the right thing even when no one is watching," El-Zare said, "we look to bring in players who best fit into that mentality. Lyndsey has been through a lot of challenges and fought her way back. She is one of those players we want to surround ourselves with at Southern Miss.
"A successful program starts with bringing in the right type of people. Lyndsey has so much character, so much resiliency in the face of obstacles, that I knew I wanted her to be part of this program. For me, it's a joy to work with that type of player."
Early returns on Lee have been positive. She went from untested and inexperienced reserve in fall camp to a starting defender in the season opener and through the Golden Eagles' first four matches.
"I definitely didn't expect to start, that's for sure," Lee said. "Coming off the injury and not playing for so long, my confidence was on the floor. I was just trying to work hard and do my best to help the team."
In her third contest, a game in which Southern Miss defeated Jackson State, 5-0, Lee earned her first college point when she assisted on a Brooke Hendrix goal.
"As well as Lyndsey has done so far, her best days are still ahead of her," El-Zare said. "That's what is really exciting. She is progressing physically and in understanding what we want to do on the field. That is the key. Finding great players with great attitudes is only the first step. Once they get here, we have to give them the tools they need to play at the highest possible level."
Lee credits the veterans on the team for helping her progress so far, so fast.
"It's like a family here," Lee said. "You're intimidated when you first get here. There are a lot of talented players who have more experience. But those players take you under their wing and make you feel comfortable. That was a big boost to my confidence.
"We have coaches and teammates here who believe in each other. Starting, or even playing a lot, this year was not a chance I thought I would get. Now that I have that chance and have that support, it's inspired me to work that much harder."
El-Zare said hard work and inspired effort have become Lee's calling card on and off the field.
"Lyndsey really is a team-first player and has a remarkable focus in all areas of her life," El-Zare said. "She's always contacting me outside of practice, wanting to know what more she can do to get better. That extends into the classroom as well. She's just as committed to excelling academically and stays in contact with our academic support staff as well. She wants to work to be the best. She's an all-around good person and we're happy to have her as a part of this program."
Lee and the Golden Eagles, who are 2-2 on the young season, are on the road for their next two matches. Southern Miss visits South Alabama Friday night and Southeastern Louisiana Sunday before returning home to face Arkansas State on Sept. 14 at 1:00 p.m.
|Follow Southern Miss Women's Soccer:||Follow @SouthernMissSoc|