A.J. Blount’s recovery from ACL surgery
By Kyle LoJacono
The most prolific goal scorer in Wiregrass Ranch girls soccer history is ready to make up for lost time this season.
Senior A.J. Blount is fully recovered from a torn ACL in her right knee that robbed her of the 2011-12 season. The forward scored a single-season program record 40 goals as a sophomore while kicking in 15 assists.
Add the 28 goals and three assists Blount recorded as a sophomore and she has 154 points in her two seasons with the Bulls.
The injury happened just more than a year ago on Sept. 2, 2011, about a month before the high school season, while playing club soccer with the Brandon Flames. Blount was hurt with about five minutes remaining in the contest.
“I was playing wing, I took the ball down the side and I saw this big girl coming,” Blount said. “I was thinking pass and beat her. I stuck my foot out to try and pass, and she took a nice whack at it. I was not prepared; I was unstable. Everything went wrong.
“I knew from the moment it happened because I felt it pop and do things it isn’t supposed to do,” Blount continued. “The first person I texted was Ms. Jen. I said ‘I think something is wrong,’ and she said ‘I need to see you ASAP.’”
Jen Stollery, the head certified athletic trainer at Wiregrass Ranch, said the recovery time for an ACL tear is six months.
“Her six months happen to be the entire soccer season, so I know it feels like a year, but it was six months for her,” Stollery said.
Blount said her first time back in a contest was April 14 with Brandon during the playoffs. She assisted on the game-winning goal and notched two tallies of her own in the following matchup.
“Most difficult thing was waiting,” Blount said. “Ms. Jen babied me as if I was her kid. My doctor and her knew I could do more, but they said ‘We need to take a step back and think about it.’ I ended up not doing the things I wanted, but I do thank (Stollery) a lot.”
Blount said she is stronger than before the injury. She was also given the chance to play on scholarship at the University of South Florida, where she committed last year.
“I didn’t know this was going to happen to me, but I feel it’s all God’s plan,” Blount said. “Now I’m even stronger and even better.”
Blount started playing soccer around age 3 because of her dad Horace Lynch.
“He didn’t play or anything,” Blount said. “I was just so energetic he would put me in a sport and have me run my energy out there and not in the house. For awhile I did a lot of sports. … When I was in Mississippi I played on my first competitive team, and it was just hard work. I didn’t know that’s what soccer was consisting of and what it was demanding. I got fit and the technical skills, and I didn’t want to give that up.”
Blount said she didn’t think she had a knack for scoring, but coaches would put her at forward because of her speed. She actually prefers playing on the wing where she can set up teammates to score with crossing passes.
When she does have a clear break at the net she thinks only optimistically.
“I have to keep telling myself that this is going in, and just stay positive about it,” Blount said. “Hopefully everything goes your way, but it’s more about training. When you train, you know you can do it. It’s not just a maybe it’s going in. You know it’s going in.”
Her family moved to the area as a seventh-grader. She met many of her current Wiregrass Ranch teammates while at John Long Middle, such as goalkeeper Dayton Wetherby and midfielder Anne Cypriano.
The Bulls went 23-3-2 in Blount’s sophomore season, one more win than the program’s first four seasons combined. They also won a district title for the first time and reached the regional finals thanks in part to Blount’s ability to find the back of the net.
The news of Blount’s injury seemed impossible to Cypriano.
“At first I didn’t believe she was hurt,” said Cypriano, a senior. “I guess I didn’t want to believe it. I hated seeing her hurt.”
Cypriano had to play more of an offensive style of midfield last year to replace some of Blount’s production.
“I feel more comfortable with her up top because we’ve played together for so long,” Cypriano said. “I can trust her up top and we can play like we used to.”
The loss also allowed opposing teams to focus on stopping senior forward Berlin Waters.
“It was difficult to adjust because she played forward with me,” Waters said. “Me and her played so well together, so it was hard to work things out. It was difficult, but now that she’s back I think it’ll be easy to get right back at it and play like we used to up top together.”
Wetherby, a senior, said she tried whatever she could to help her injured teammate.
“I wanted to help her as much as I could, so when she was done with rehab and cleared to play we worked together,” Wetherby said. “It was really hard because she’s like a sister to me.”
Stollery said Blount came for treatment every day after her stitches came out.
“She did what any elite athlete would do,” Stollery said. “Treatment and rehab as often as possible, pushing herself but not too much.”
Stollery said the first step to recovery from an ACL tear is regaining motion while keeping out swelling.
“The biggest things are range of motion and strengthening of the quad,” Stollery said. “Once you get the quad strength back you move into balance and functional stuff and then have to do a lot of on-the-field activity before you go into live play.”
Blount showed she had regained her speed during the track season. She was part of the Wiregrass Ranch 4×100-meter relay team that won Sunshine Athletic Conference and district championships.
“It was really inspiring for me when she came back during track,” Stollery said. “That’s one thing that we work on with athletes before you start side-to-side motion is that straight on speed. Man did she have it, and it came back so fast. I was so happy for her.”
For Blount, it took a return to the pitch.
“I had to be on a field and touch a ball before I felt like I was back,” Blount said.
High school practice begins Oct. 8 with games starting three weeks later, a wait Blount could do without.
“If it were my decision we’d be playing now,” Blount said. “I’m ready to get to play with these girls one more time before we head off to college.”
—Stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches