West Jessamine's Savannah Layne returns to soccer from Paul George-like injury

mmaloney@herald-leader.comAugust 17, 2014 

When Savannah Layne heard about what happened to Paul George, a thought crossed her mind: I feel your pain.

Layne, a junior on the West Jessamine High School girls' soccer team, suffered essentially the same injury that recently knocked George out of the Team USA men's basketball camp.

Layne knows what it feels like to, in an instant, break the tibia and fibula in her left leg.

She was playing for her club team, Louisville-based Javanon, in May 2013 when she went down during a match at Lebanon, Ohio.

A teammate had played a ball toward Layne, who was tracking the ball when the opposing goalkeeper, from Minnesota, came sliding toward her with cleats at shin level.

Her leg snapped.

"At first, I had no clue what was going on," Layne said. "And then I knew something was wrong, but my leg wasn't hurting really bad because nothing had processed in my mind.

"So I was laying on the ground and went to grab my leg, and I could feel my bones hitting each other inside my leg. I held it and just dropped it in the shock of what I felt. It was awful."

That was then and this is now. Layne is a junior on the state's eighth-ranked team. At long last, she is healthy again.

Two screws and a "nail" rod remain in her leg.

Layne, who plays forward on the right wing, is a key component on a balanced team. As a freshman, she was the second-leading scorer for the Lady Colts with 14 goals.

"We've got a lot of weapons, and she just adds another extra weapon," Coach Kevin Wright said. "Just her speed, athleticism. She's matured. I think her soccer I.Q.'s improved a lot in the last couple years."

Lessons learned were tough, Layne said.

When she was at the hospital in 2013, the first thing she asked was whether she'd be able to play in the upcoming high school season. When nobody gave her a straight reply, she knew the outlook was not good.

She sat her sophomore season, focused instead on physical therapy.

"I never wanted to go, but I knew I had to," she said. "I just had to work my butt off. And my physical therapist, Matt Lee, he was awesome."

She gained a new appreciation for the game, even practice. Occasionally, a teammate would complain about the rigors of practice. Layne hated to hear that, because practice — and the games, of course — is what she ached to take part in.

"I learned how much I miss playing for Coach Wright and playing with all the rest of the girls," she said. "And I missed being able to do my thing on the field."

There were times that she doubted herself. She was so far behind her teammates. Could she ever regain her old form?

Wright assured her that she not only could come back, she could be better than ever.

"Well, she's matured two years," the coach said. "Just the mental toughness and fighting through something. ... I think she's been playing lights out. I think she's just been a great example for my other kids. It just shows that you can get up one more time than you fall down and battle through some things.

"All smooth sailing produces a poor sailor. If you can battle through storms and weather those kind of things, endure them, then it helps you and everybody else around you. It makes you a tougher, better person."

She has inspired her teammates.

"I'm so proud of her because for all last season she couldn't play, and she would come to every single game, and it made her really upset because she loves soccer so much," said fellow junior Shaye Isaacs. "She's doing awesome, just like she was doing before she broke her leg."

Layne was able to resume non-contact training with Javanon last November and, in March, resumed playing club soccer. This week marks her return to the high school game.

"I am definitely 100 percent," she said. "But sometimes I do have a lot of pain in the leg where one of the incisions was. But I'm totally able to play through. It's just one of those things."

As for Paul George, Layne will watch his comeback with added interest, confident he can be a star again.

"If you're willing to work hard, then you can absolutely come back," she said. "Definitely. You just have to have that mindset of 'I want to get better. I want to be where I was, even better than what I was.'"

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.

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