By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way we want it to.
While championships are one measure of team sport success, more often athletes must learn to deal with bitter loss.
Exhibit A: In high school varsity athletics, only one team in your class will end up on top.
And while many of us fold at that prospect, Western Michigan Christian junior girls soccer player Megan Teeter continues to guide her team, even while she yearns herself for a little better luck in the future.
Despite losing the majority of the past two seasons to injury, Teeter, a team captain, has remained the team’s bulwark against complacency and taking anything for granted.
Even though she isn’t out there on the pitch, she’s right there cheering on her team and providing leadership.
“My role on the team is different now, “ said Teeter. “The injuries have given me the chance to see the game from the sideline. I get to talk to players, see what is going on from a different perspective. Believe me, it looks a lot different from the sidelines than when I’m standing out there on the field.”
“She’s there everyday,” said Warrior head coach David Hulings. “She continues to come to practice and continues to lead her team. She is a captain and never looks at anything as a downer.”
Make no mistake, Teeter has every right to feel ambivalent about athletics. Her road to the match lineup has been fraught at nearly every turn with disappointing setbacks and crushing injuries.
Two injuries, in particular.
It started in the fall of Teeter’s sophomore season, when she was playing club soccer. After a very strong freshman season, Teeter had every reason to feel good about the upcoming campaign and was using the club team to improve her skills. Then she sustained a season-ending ACL tear in her knee, putting her upcoming sophomore varsity season (Spring 2013) in serious jeopardy.
Hulings said he was surprised at the tenacity of Teeter’s efforts to return to the field. Let’s not forget, Teeter is the daughter of former University of Michigan and NFL defensive lineman Mike Teeter – Teeter is the Warriors’ conditioning coach – so she probably knows a thing or two about how to attack workouts and rehab.
“I don’t know I’ve ever seen an athlete work as hard to get back,” he said. “She wasn’t going to let anything keep her out. It wasn’t meant to be.”
The knee wasn’t ready and Teeter was forced to sit out the rest of the season.
“She was still at every practice,” said Hulings. “She still set the pace.”
Teeter was on-track to play this, her junior season, having completed the cross country and basketball seasons without a problem.
She was fine until a few games into the 2014 campaign, when she started to grumble about her knee locking up. Things came to a head at halftime of Christian’s Game 7 battle with North Muskegon. Hulings was talking to the team, making adjustments, when he when he turned to see Teeter crying. Her knee had locked up and she couldn’t get up.
The next morning, doctors opened up her knee to take a look. What they found was definitely a good news/bad news type of scenario.
The bad news: Teeter had a torn meniscus and would miss the remainder of another season. The good news, though, is that she will have a chance to play her senior season with a fully repaired knee.
Still, Teeter awoke thinking the doctors were going to tell her she would be out for just a couple weeks. Sure she would continue to endure knee instability, but she would still be out there playing.
“I thought they were going to go in and just clean it out,” said Teeter. “It was disappointing, for sure. But the recovery time (for the repaired meniscus) will actually be less time, about three months. At least I get a chance to come back for my senior year.”
Again, gracefully, Teeter never showed selfishness, instead projecting strength to her teammates when she could have just as well revealed some big-time disappointment.
“She was injured Thursday, had surgery Friday,” Hulings explained, “and was back to practice Monday. She never relented. In over 20 years of coaching, I can think of one or two (players) who could handle what she’s been through. She is a phenomenal athlete who also has an extraordinary ability to come back from setbacks.”
Every practice, every match, even at last weekend’s team trip to Chicago to pack meals for delivery to Developing World countries on Saturday and a MLS match on Sunday.
Because there isn’t much concern Teeter will prepare herself physically, now the challenge is mental.
“In this situation,” said Hulings, “the body is the easiest thing to fix.”
“For me, it’s no longer a physical thing,” said Teeter. “It’s more emotional now than anything. It’s hard not being out there with my team, helping them win. I’ve had to find other ways to help. But it can pretty hard.”
Athletes coming back from injury also have to be willing to trust that their injuries are a thing of a past. They must relearn to play at a high level – forgoing the very understandable feeling that the next injury is right around the corner – lest they play tentatively and a step late.
If her past behavior is any kind of indication, Hulings is certain she will pass that test as well.
“Listen I am a 60-year old inspirational speaker,” said Hulings. “I get paid money to inspire other people. But she’s an inspiration to me. Megan is the perfect example of how to handle adversity. She inspires me every day with how she’s handled herself.”
The Warriors (14-1-1) have thrived under Teeter’s example. In fact, they haven’t lost since Teeter left the line up. It’s not that the team is better without Teeter, but that this group is versatile enough to handle Hulings’ thoughtful tinkering.
“I can move all 10 of my players around to different positions,” he said. In this case, senior Mykayla Denison moved from the anchor in the midfield to an outside back position where she has prospered.
The Warriors have also benefited from fine play from senior transfer Alyssa Benedict and junior Alexys Riksen, both of whom lead the team in scoring. Junior goalkeeper Lindsey Johnson has been dominant between the pipes.
The success of the team does have one sore spot; that despite an incredible attitude, Teeter must continue to wait until it’s her turn to contribute as much on the field as she has on the sidelines. Despite that, it serves as a lesson to the rest of her teammates that the program isn’t premised on just one player.
“Obviously,” said Hulings, “we will miss her being out there. But this program is built on the fact that we’re a team and not just a bunch of players.”
Still, Teeter remains a team captain and leader, showing that if a program has deep roots, they are made up of players like Teeter – those who provide proof that sports is so much more than what happens on game day.
“I want to get back out there,” admits Teeter. “But until I can, I’ll be there helping wherever I can.”