April 18, 2014

Weekender: Banick ACLimating to New Environment

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

Even without a repaired ACL, Stevenson redshirt sophomore Stephen Banick is leading the Mustangs in goals and points. If Stevenson knocks off Salisbury on Saturday night and take the lead in the race for the No. 1 seed in the South region, Banick will play a key role. (John Strohsacker)

With four surgeries in three years, and the prospect of a fifth looming, Stephen Banick was despondent.

The two surgeries for broken arms he endured while playing at Charlotte Catholic were rough enough, and then there the torn ACL during fall ball of his freshman year at Bellarmine. The death of Jack McGetrick – the reason Banick chose Bellarmine out of high school – cast an additional pall over his situation.

The broken ankle suffered in the national semifinals against Salisbury – and the subsequent surgery – after he transferred to Stevenson for his rookie year in '12 was definitely a downer. But it was hard to get too distraught considering the kind of year Banick had, leading the 18-5 Mustangs with 36 goals and 27 assists. Sure, he'd have to wear a boot and use crutches all summer, but he'd be back by the start of the next year when Stevenson would be absolutely loaded.

Five days into the following spring practice last year, Banick's other ACL snapped.

The despair – and the prospect of facing the knife a fifth time – overwhelmed him.

"I was kind of in a weird place after that happened," Banick admitted. "I really just went into...I didn't really want to play anymore. Well, I wanted to play, but I didn't want to get surgery again. I didn't want to do that to myself. I didn't want to go through the rehab again. I basically just wanted to have a summer."

Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene tried his best to gauge which direction to steer his young attackman.

"He was mentally really kind of frazzled by what happened," Cantabene said. "He couldn't believe he got hurt again. It took us a while to really kind of figure out what he wanted. We wanted him to see the doctors and he wouldn't do it. He just wanted to figure out if he wanted to play lacrosse again because he was frustrated with all of the injuries.

"We sat him down and asked him what he really wanted to do, and talked to his family and they said he really didn't want to have the surgery. We said, 'That's fine. No problem. We just have to make a decision if we want to get you back.' He said he wanted to come back and play; we said, 'Great, we'll get you rehabbed.'"

Working with the Stevenson training staff, Banick strengthened his quad and calf muscles and slowly learned to run with a substantial knee brace. By the 15th game of the season, a road game against Messiah, Banick was ready to give his ACL-less right leg a test run.

"It felt alright, but then I had one little mishap and my knee just shifted," Banick said. "It didn't feel good. I just called it."

That was the end of Banick's 2013 campaign and, possibly, his career. For the rest of the season, the one-time freshman All-American had to watch the Mustangs march toward the first national championship in school history. He was at every game rooting them on, but it was certainly accompanied by melancholy.

"I was happy for them, but it did suck not being a part of it," he said. "You want to contribute and be there, but you're still happy for them."

Perhaps inspired by the championship, or just an innate dogged determination, Banick rehabbed relentlessly over the summer. He started playing lacrosse in a competitive atmosphere during the offseason, putting the knee through its paces to make sure it would be ready for the season.

"Over the summer, I had been pretty rough with it and I felt confident," Banick said. "As long as I had the brace on, I felt like I was 100 percent."

The preseason went smoothly, with Banick showing some of the same flashes that placed him the starting line-up as a rookie. Cantabene liked we he saw leading into the season, but it was a cautious optimism.

Very cautious.

"Every day I'd wonder, 'How's he going to do?' I'd watch him do a little bit and hope he didn't go down," Cantabene said. "He's proven that he can get through it. I think his toughness, and his mental toughness, to battle through all that is very special."

From the first game on, Banick has proven that he is still an All-American despite missing an ACL. He has started every game for the No. 2 Mustangs and leads the team in goals (26) and is third in assists (15) for a team-best 41 points. Still, he's doing it without an ACL, something that can make walking a challenge at times, never mind playing the attack position in lacrosse.

Cantabane said the only person that he played with or coached that didn't have an intact ACL was his teammate Gary Miller, who played on the '92 Loyola College team. Cantabene described Miller as "a freak of nature," but believes Banick has traits that will make him successful, as well.

"Steve's a special kid and mentally tough enough and physically tough enough to handle all of that," Cantabene said. "Now that he's playing more and getting into the second half of the season, all of it is coming back. He's feeling comfortable with it and he's coming back to that level."

Banick is aware of the perils of playing without an important knee ligament, but he's not going to waste any time worrying about it. With four surgeries in the last three years, he's done perseverating on the negative.

"I just try not to ever think about it," Banick said. "At any point anything could happen, so I just go out there. I just keep playing."

If things work out perfectly, Banick will get a chance to play a big role in back-to-back championships for Stevenson and, more importantly, finally enjoy the summer.

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