March 12, 2009

Duke's Cryer Puts Painful 2008 in the Past

by Jesse Baumgartner | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Following a medical redshirt season, Caroline Cryer has returned to form with 19 goals and 13 assists in seven games this season for No. 3 Duke. But her presence has been felt most on draws, head coach Kerstin Kimel says. The Blue Devils visit No. 8 Georgetown on Saturday.
© John Strohsacker/

This isn't quite the way Caroline Cryer saw her career at Duke playing out.

Oh, the 19 goals and 13 assists so far this year aren't the surprise. Nor is the fact that the senior has her team in the top 10 and fresh off much-needed rebound wins against Princeton and Vanderbilt in the last week.

The numbers themselves are rather "ordinary," as far as Cryer goes. They're just coming about a year later than she expected.

In the fall of 2007, the Duke star was all set for this same senior campaign, a season in which Lacrosse Magazine had her pegged for Player of the Year.
Then during fall play, Blue Devils coach Kirsten Kimel noticed a little limp from her star player coming from the left foot. An examination revealed a hairline fracture in the fifth metatarsal -- commonly known as a Jones fracture.

Cryer had a screw inserted to help aid the healing process in time for the 2008 season, and everything seemed OK.

But the foot still didn't feel right even after the normal recovery time. And when Cryer tried to tough it out in the first game against Denver in February 2008 (in which she had a mere two goals and three assists), she found herself in a world of pain.

Kimel sat in her office after that one when the phone rang. It was the trainer, who said an extremely upset Cryer was on her way up.

"She came in my office and ... I don't think before then I'd ever seen Caroline Cryer cry," Kimel said. "And she was just bawling. You know...her foot...she was in a lot of pain. And she just...she was kind of at her wit's end."

It was at that point that Kimel and Cryer began thinking medical redshirt, even though it meant Cryer would be have to watch her fellow seniors take the field and graduate last spring without her.

They discovered that the pain was caused by the screw not being flush with the bone, so in an unusual surgery, Cryer was given a headless screw to help the process.

"It was just a total bummer, because getting the screw in the first place was supposed to make it heal faster in time for the season," Cryer said. "I just couldn't believe that I was going to have to go through the same process again, but it was at a point where it just hurt so bad, that I wanted it to be fixed any way possible."

The recovery worked this time, and in the middle of the season Cryer came to Kimel with the joyous news that she had finally taken a pain-free step. In her excitement, she even put the X-ray image of her healed foot as the background picture on her iPhone.

But that didn't make it easier to not be on the field.

"I think it was a really hard process for Caroline the entire time," Kimel said.

The Blue Devils still managed to produce a stirring run to the NCAA semifinals, only to lose a 9-8 overtime heartbreaker to Penn. Can anybody say what if?

"Like that Final Four game, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I want to be out there so bad,'" said Cryer, adding how it was still fun (but tough) to experience the run from afar.

But after rehab and some summer action with the U.S. team in Prague, Cryer is back at her usual high level of play that gives the Blue Devils toughness, a scoring playmaker and someone who can even change the game with her success on the draw (a team-leading 23 so far this season).
"That's probably the biggest void that we had last year with her. We were able to make up for her in terms of not having her as a scorer, but I feel like where we missed her the most was on the draw," Kimel said. "We had a lot of young kids around the circle, and we were never able to control a lot of games because we couldn't control the draw."

That controlling presence has returned, and with things now back to normal, both Cryer and the Blue Devils are hoping there won't be any questions about what might have been when this season comes to a close. 

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