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November 14, 2011

Back on the pitch

By: Marc Mullen

After missing two years with knee injuries, Shannon Mayrose was thankful to get back to the sport she loves and put up huge numbers this fall

The path less traveled, at least for the Mayrose females, is what ultimately brought Shannon Mayrose to Blacksburg.

However, it wasn’t without its share of roadblocks, which could have detoured anyone, and began even before the Freehold, N.J. native stepped on to the campus.

Having to sit out one’s first two seasons is not the way a college athlete wants to start his or her career, but that is exactly the situation she faced, and it’s all Bonnie Tyler’s fault.

Before explaining that, though, understand that athletics runs in Mayrose’s family. One could argue that Shannon is the best basketball player in the family, and that list includes her mother, Donna nee Velke, and older sister, Alyssa.

Back in 1977, Velke was the first female to reach the 1,000-point plateau for Howell High School in New Jersey, and she was also the top tennis player for the Rebels. Alyssa attended Fairleigh Dickinson University and played on the Knights’ basketball squad, finishing her career with 1,058 points (12th all time at the school), 595 rebounds (13th) and hit 116 3-point baskets (sixth).

However, Shannon may have topped them all, captaining Freehold Boro’s basketball team in both her junior and senior years. She became the school’s all-time leading scorer, finishing with 1,726 points to rank third all time in the district for girls.

But for the girl who had been playing a different sport for as long as she could remember, she decided to choose soccer.

“It was actually during my sophomore year in high school that I kind of decided I wanted to go the soccer route,” she said. “For me, I enjoy basketball, and it’s something that I definitely looked into college-wise. But soccer has been my first passion since I was 5, and I think if I didn’t choose the soccer route, I would have regretted it.”

During the recruiting process, Mayrose had just switched clubs, moving to a higher level team, the Montclair Aristocrats, which she credits for getting the attention of former Virginia Tech head coach Kelly Cagle.

“I remember getting an email from Kelly Cagle after my first tournament with the Aristocrats, and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Why didn’t I come here (to the club team) earlier?’” Mayrose said. “She was very big on me coming to visit here, and I came and fell in love with it. I told my mom when we were leaving that I didn’t want to leave. I visited a couple other places, but Tech just always stuck out.”

Interestingly, current Hokie junior Kelly Conheeney – Tech’s all-time leading point scorer – could have been credited with her first collegiate assist even before donning the Chicago maroon and burnt orange. She and Mayrose were teammates on that club team, and she played a big part in helping Mayrose with her decision.

“I remember she told me she had committed, and that was definitely a factor in my committing,” Mayrose said. “Because I’m a pretty shy person at first, so if I know someone, it makes it easier. She told me she had committed, and she was like ‘Come on, Shannon, come on, let’s go to Virginia Tech together.’ So I was like ‘Alright.’”

Shortly thereafter, the summer before Mayrose’s senior soccer season, she broke her collarbone at regionals, which was the first time she had ever sustained a serious injury in any of her athletics seasons – which also included track in the spring. Then came the fateful day that Mayrose remembers without hesitation – “April 20, 2009.”

“I was actually doing a dance for school. We were doing turnouts. I actually remember the song, that ‘Turn Around’ song [Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler],” Mayrose said. “I was on the ground. I guess I was squatting, and I turned around, and as I turned, I felt like a pop. I thought initially that I had torn my ACL just because I heard something, but then I couldn’t bend my knee, so I had no idea what was going on.”

Mayrose found out that she had “OCD, which is Osteochondral Defect, where the cartilage in my knee basically disintegrated. The cartilage dislodged from my knee, and it kind of got stuck in between my knee, so my knee was actually stuck bent for the first night.”

She said she caught a break the next day when she tripped on her crutches and her leg swung, and that dislodged the obstruction, eliminating emergency surgery. But further surgery was still needed.

“I got what’s called an autograph transfer, where they took another part of my cartilage from a non-weight bearing part of my knee and transferred it into my knee, where the messed up cartilage was,” she said. “So that was like a whole year process, and I was told that not a lot of people come back 100 percent from it, so it was kind of devastating to hear that.

“For me, I try to push myself, and not playing for me was just not an option. So when I hurt my first one and was told that, I was like ‘No. No. You don’t know me. You don’t know who I am.’ I had that type of mentality.”

When Mayrose arrived on campus as a freshman in 2009, she was on crutches. She spent most of the time in rehab, working on getting back on the field, which she did in the summer of 2010.

“Then, in my first game back with the Aristocrats in the summer, I hurt my left knee, and it ended up being the same thing, so they did the same procedure,” she said. “I came back to Tech and just did everything all over again.

“This summer, I worked extremely hard to get fit. Being out two years is definitely a big setback, so I had to work on little things, like my touch, and just things that you learned, like, when you were 11. It was very overwhelming, but it’s definitely good to be back.”

All she’s done after a two-year absence from the sport is play in each of the Hokies’ 20 matches, score on eight of her 16 shots on goal, which included two game winners, contribute 19 points – second only to Conheeney in both points and goals – and help Tech to a possible fourth trip to the NCAAs (announced Nov. 7).

She scored her first goal in her second game back, the game winner at James Madison, which began a four-game goal-scoring streak for her. Her other game winner came on a header off a cross from Amanda Gerhard with just 55 seconds left in Tech’s 2-1 victory over Miami.

That win was a turning point in the season for the Hokies, as they stood 0-3-1 in ACC play before that match and then went on a 4-1 stretch that included an upset of No. 8 North Carolina. The streak enabled them to secure an ACC postseason bid.

“It was overwhelming,” she said. “College is what you work for, and watching the last two years was good in the fact that I learned a lot. But it definitely made me appreciate how much I love soccer, and how much I love being out there.

“So when I got to play my first game, it was overwhelming, and when I scored, I felt like I could have cried because it was something that I’ve been thinking about for two years, and finally, I get a chance to do it. I’m just so thankful for the opportunity and thankful that my knees are good now.”

The two-year absence from something that she had devoted a lifetime to took its toll on her. She credited the support from her mom and her family as a big help and to everyone at Tech.

“When I got here, the support to push me to work hard and rehab every day and just do what I need to do to get back on the field really helped,” she said. “And when I got here, that was a real eye-opener to the fact that there was no way I was going to let this slip away.

“Everyone has always told me it’s [the injuries] a blessing in disguise. In the long run, I know that I’m going to realize that it’s going to help me to the fact that, soccer-wise, I am a lot smarter, and I get to be at Tech a couple more years.

“My friends, everyone on the team, was just so supportive. Do I wish it had happened? I’m not going to say that I wished for my knees to go bad, but it’s something that I am going to look back and realize that I’m not mad it happened.”

A lot of student-athletes take a redshirt year, either as a healthy freshman to get more time at learning and/or adjusting, or later in a career due to injury. But two years, even before seeing a minute of action, is tough. The perseverance, the strength, the toughness, the patience that is needed to get through, not just one, but two years away, has to come from somewhere.

Enter Glenn Mayrose, Shannon’s father and a cameraman for ABC7 in New York. Here is a man who was there in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, bringing the nation some of those images.

“He was actually there because he got called in to cover the event once the first plane hit. Then, when the second plane was coming, he saw it. He saw the whole thing,” Mayrose said. “He was fine, but he was on a TV show for all the photos he got when the second plane hit.

“I was in fifth grade, and when my mom came to pick us [her and her sister] up, she was crying, and we were asking her why she was crying. She said, ‘You didn’t hear? We don’t know if Daddy’s okay. He could be hurt.’ In the elementary school, everyone was just getting signed out, and no one really knew why. So I was just in shock, and I just had no idea what was going on.

“But his job definitely puts him in situations where he’s been in danger. When that tsunami hit, he went there. He’s been to a lot of places where natural disasters happen. It’s something that you worry about because it’s your dad, but he’s a pretty strong guy. He can fend for himself in any situation. He’s tough.”

Tech fans now know where Shannon Mayrose gets it from because the same could certainly be said for her.