April 11, 2014

Weekender: Feiner All the Way Back for Cabrini

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Cabrini senior close defender Mac Feiner (above) missed his sophomore year and was hobbled for much of his junior season after suffering a broken leg in 2012. "A play happened in front of the crease," Feiner said of the injury. "Honestly, I don't know how it all happened because they wouldn't let me watch the tape because I guess it was pretty gruesome." (Kevin P. Tucker)

The half-field shot looked about as harmless as it gets. It floated in the air as the horn marking the end of the third quarter was about to sound during a preseason scrimmage between Cabrini and Ursinus back in February of 2012. If everyone had just let it go, it probably would have uneventfully fallen to the turf.

But three players were watching the ball closely: an Ursinus attackman, Cabrini's then-junior goalie Erick Zarzecki and then-sophomore close defender Mac Feiner. Feiner and the Ursinus player were sprinting toward the crease, their heads swiveled back towards the ball while Zarzecki bolted out of his cage with his eyes looking upward, unaware he was heading directly toward the oncoming duo.

The collision was unavoidable, and it was explosive. Standing at 6-foot-5, Feiner seemingly had the size to best withstand a smash-up like the one that occurred, but as is often the case, low man wins.

Cabrini head coach Steve Colfer watched the wreck from the sideline and winced. The next thing he saw was one of his other defenders come sprinting to the sidelines, dropping his stick and taking off his helmet along the way before doubling over in a series of dry heaves.

"He was standing nearby and could hear the sound of the leg break," Colfer said of the distraught player. "He kept saying, 'It's broken and Mac's done for the year. It's broken!"

As Colfer and the Cabrini training staff made their way out to the scene of the impact, the Ursinus attackman hopped up and jogged to his bench, miraculously uninjured. Zarzecki – by far the best goalie on the Cavalier roster who would go on to earn All-American honors that year – sat upright, albeit somewhat dazed.

A short distance away, Feiner was supine, his lower right leg angled grotesquely.

"It was horrific," remembered Colfer. "It broke all the bones: the fibula, the tibia, everything in his leg. It's just lying there awkwardly."

Looking down at Feiner, who would undoubtedly have been a starter in '12, Colfer tried his best to console his mangled player, but it was Feiner who attempted to manage the situation.

"He probably went right into shock because the pain would have knocked over a horse," Colfer said. "But the first thing he says is, 'Is Erick alright?'"

"He's a good kid," continued Colfer, his voice catching with emotion.

* * *

Feiner's recollection of the event is spotty.

"A play happened in front of the crease," he said, describing the extent of what he remembered. "Honestly, I don't know how it all happened because they wouldn't let me watch the tape because I guess it was pretty gruesome."

"On the video, you can hear it break," Colfer said, uneasily.

On medication for the first few days after the injury to ease the intense pain, one of Feiner's first lucid moments was waking up from the surgery at a hospital close to Cabrini's Radnor, Pa., campus where a metal rod was implanted in his lower leg. It's standard procedure for the break that Feiner sustained, and the realization that it was over was welcome news.

"The doctor comes in and I'm expecting him to say everything went well and we'll get you out of here in a couple of days," Feiner said. "Basically what he said was if I was to play a sport again, we'd have to redo the surgery."

Feiner slowly laid back in his hospital bed and stared at the ceiling.

"I remember getting that news and I didn't know what to say," he recalled. "I was in shock, pretty much. They are telling me this whole thing will happen again? It was pretty painful."

"The surgeon didn't like the way [the rod] went in, so they had to go back in and take the rod out and put another rod in," Colfer said. "I give the surgeon a lot of credit because he said, 'I have a guy at the University of Pennsylvania who can do it better and to be an athlete, you want it to be 100 percent right, not 98 percent right.'"

"I obviously wanted to keep playing lacrosse," Feiner said. "I wasn't going to stop after playing my whole life."

When all of the surgery was completed, Colfer broached the subject of Feiner taking the semester off, heading back to his hometown outside Syracuse and rehabbing. Feiner wasn't interested. With Colfer's help, he worked with his professors to catch up on the two weeks of missed classes, doing much of the work while immobilized in a hospital bed. His mother moved down from CNY, having various degrees of success shuttling her monstrous son around town.

Feiner dinged up his other leg this season, but when head coach Steve Colfer wanted to pull him out of the Whittier game, Feiner resisted. "He said, 'Coach, I've missed enough games. I'm not missing anymore,'" Colfer said. (Kevin P. Tucker)

Feiner was still not cleared to play during fall ball prior to the 2013 season, limiting him to some light running and occasional throwing at practice. While remaining mostly unsaid, everybody knew that there would be a huge mental hurdle for Feiner to clear when he finally got back on the field.

Colfer tried to get a psychological jump on the transition.

"The last day of fall ball, I told him, 'Hey, Mac, why don't you put your helmet on and just get the feel back," he said. "'Just do your drills and running, throwing side to side.' I knew there was going to be some trepidation on his part because when have a horrific injury like that, when you go back on the field you start to think, 'Oh, my God, is this going to happen again, because I don't want to go through that again.'"

"I trusted him and went with it," Feiner said of donning his lid and working with the team in a reduced capacity that final practice. "It was definitely huge. It was a way to ease my way back into it. It was a big part of the mental piece, and I appreciate Coach letting me do that in the fall. That was a big thing for me."

Feiner was cleared in January for the 2013 season, and he got plenty of action, hitting the field for all but one of the Cavaliers' 19 games, primarily in man-down situations. It was important that he gained those minutes, but they weren't anything near what he was capable of.

"That first year back he was compromised, but he played," Colfer said.

"I wasn't 100 percent," Feiner admitted. "Maybe 95 percent. There was always pain in my leg, and it felt like it wasn't exactly right. I thought for sure I'd be good, but that didn't happen."

* * *

After the sixth game of this spring against Nazareth, Feiner's lower leg was bothering him. With an important ranked game with Ithaca looming in the coming week, Colfer urged him to take the game off against Whittier so he'd be fresh for the Bombers.

Because his issues were minor and, more importantly, they were on the other leg – not the one that disintegrated in 2012 – Feiner wasn't sitting for anything.

"He said, 'Coach, I've missed enough games. I'm not missing any more,'" Colfer said. "He's not worried about the broken bones in his legs, he was just a little tweaked and banged up like everyone else, but he wasn't coming out of the game. I said, 'OK, you've got a point.'"

Feiner has played and started in all but one game this spring, helping the Cavaliers post a 11-0 record – the best start in program history – and rise to No. 3 in Lacrosse Magazine's weekly ranking. On Friday night, they travel to face No. 7 Salisbury in a clash that will go a long way in determining how the South bracket will be seeded in May.

More importantly, it's a long way from that terrible day in 2012, those awful nights in the hospital and the brutal afternoons rehabbing that Feiner had to endure over the past two years. That's why when Mac Feiner is announced in the starting lineup against the Sea Gulls on Friday, it will be one of those moments when he realizes it was all worth it.

"Every once in a while I'll look back and think about where I was a couple of years ago and where I am now," Feiner said. "There are a few of the guys who have gone through injuries like that and we don't take anything for granted because you never know when today could be your last game."

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