SOCCER: Walk-on fights through multiple ACL tears to become captain

Vannata helps teammates through injuries

When sophomore defender Tina Vannatta came to Ball State University as a freshman, she felt she had no chance to play for the soccer team, especially after the adversity she faced in high school in Powhatan, Va.

In high school, Vannatta tore her anterior cruciate ligament three times during the soccer season. She felt playing very little in high school gave her no chance at playing college soccer. 

"I had to have three ACL surgeries in my junior and senior years," Vannatta said. "The years that coaches really recruit players. I sort of just accepted the fact I probably wouldn't be playing soccer in college."

During her freshman year, she played little soccer. In her second semester, she played for the club soccer team and kept herself in shape by working out. Vannatta joined the club team because she said it was hard for her to not be playing soccer.

In the summer after her freshman year, Vannatta got the urge to try and walk-on for the Cardinals. 

"I had been working out my entire freshman year, so I knew I was in shape to play," Vannatta said. "I just wasn't sure what to expect when I e-mailed the coaching staff."

She e-mailed coach Michael Lovett, who she said was willing to allow her to try and walk onto the team. Lovett told her he had no expectations for her and was not going to guarantee her a spot on the team or even playing time, Vannatta said.

"Preseason was basically my tryout," Vannatta said. "I was really nervous during that time because I had not played that kind of soccer for over a year. But I was willing to do whatever it would take to get a spot on the team."

Vannatta impressed Lovett enough that after the preseason, he gave her a roster spot on the team. Vannatta said she was shocked to make the team. She said she expected little playing time, if any at all, but was satisfied by practicing with team. 

"When I first met her, I really had to take her like a grain of salt," Lovett said. "I know that sounds bad but with walk-ons some understand what it takes to play college soccer and others don't. It was a ‘Nice to meet you, this is when preseason is, this is what we do, see you there' type of thing."

Lovett said what earned Vannatta a spot on the roster was how well her fitness scores were and how dedicated she was to making the soccer team.

"A little bit of luck came across me when our center back last season got hurt," Vannatta said. "When she went down, Lovett put me in for her and from then on I started getting playing time and would even start some games."

In her second season with the Cardinals, Vannatta was named one of the team's three captains for the 2009 season. 

"It was a shock to be named captain," Vannatta said. "I have a good work ethic and Lovett saw me improve from last season. I just felt honored to be named a captain."

Lovett said her dedication, trust and loyalty is what led him to choose Vannatta as a captain for the soccer team this season. He said she is basically the mother figure on the team.

Vannatta has used her story to help younger soccer players get through their injuries. Many times she will run into a player with an ACL tear who believes they will never get to play college soccer and tells them her story, Vannatta said. 

"I tell younger kids that I know exactly what they are going through," Vannatta said. "I have shared their pain. I tell them if you love soccer that much, you will always want to play. I also help them by just saying they will get through their injury because I went through it three times. That's when they look at me and wonder how I did it three times."

Going from a walk-on to a team captain is rare among college athletics. Vannatta is one of those rare athletes that was able to make it after suffering three injuries that usually end some athletes careers.

Lovett believes Vannatta's journey has shown exactly who she is. It shows how dedicated she was to get back into soccer shape after suffering three ACL injuries in hope to make the soccer team. He believes her passion for soccer and her dedication was what allowed her to get to where she is today. 

"I still have a lot I want to do for the team," Vannatta said. "I want to help our team reach our goals. I want to go graduate school so I can play my fourth year of eligibility too. Whether I'm captain or not the next two years, I just want to help the team."


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