They were the words Sarah Thune never wanted to hear again.
“It’s a tear.”
The first time she heard those words, redshirt senior Thune was in high school. She tore her ACL while playing club soccer. The horrific injury required reconstructive knee surgery. An ACL tear, which is a career-ender for many, would not keep Thune down.
Thune went on from the injury to be recruited by Missouri soccer coach Bryan Blitz at the age of 16. She traveled south from Fontana, Wis., to join the Tiger family in 2009. The passionate young defender contributed to the Tigers in her first two seasons, with ever increasing playing time as the years went by.
In November of 2011, Thune heard the dreaded words a second time.
“You never want to hear those words,” she said. “It’s the worst thing possible.”
Thune tore her ACL a second time, cutting her redshirt sophomore season short at 14 games. The injury dragged on into the next season as well, when Thune saw a game high of 37 minutes in her junior year.
But, as it was before, Thune would not be held down.
The fiery defender has made an incredible comeback in her senior season. Thune has started all but one game in the center of the back line. Her positive attitude and strong leadership have been invaluable to this young Tiger squad, Blitz said.
Her experienced voice rises above the other noise. Thune captains her team from the back third of the field, like a quarterback shouting orders.
“I’ve always been an organizer,” Thune said. “A verbal organizer. I see that to be of huge importance on a soccer field, especially on the back line where I play.”
She laughed as she recalled how, being the youngest of four, loudness was always a necessary character trait. Two older brothers, who both played soccer, instilled the leadership values in her, she said.
“It’s always been something that I’ve prided myself in over the years, and something that my coach thinks I bring well and something he saw in me when he recruited me,” Thune said.
Thune’s leadership is something Blitz values very much. She is the only player on this Tigers squad who knows what it is like to win a conference championship, as she did in 2009.
“She’s outstanding,” Blitz said about his senior leader. “She certainly is one of our better leaders. She’ll play anywhere, and she’s all about team.”
The coach has a certain fondness in his voice when he talks about his “old lady.” The two have known each other for almost nine years now, going back to when Thune was first recruited.
“It takes time to build a relationship with your college coach,” she said. “That bond has been there for a while. We’ve gone through a lot. Positives, negatives, it all ultimately has brought us closer together.”
The veteran duo hope that bond pays off in the form of wins. The Tigers have gotten off to a 4-4 start and will be entering conference play on Friday.
Regardless of the outcome, Thune says she knows all her struggles have been worth it.
“It’s been worth every single thing,” Thune said. “Not only has the soccer been amazing and I have continued to grow as a player and as a leader, but being here at Mizzou is one of the best things and one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life.”
“That ACL was absolutely worth it.”