Senior Sinclaire Miramontez poses for a portrait in front of a soccer goal after practice on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019, at Ed Weir Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. Miramontez is considered the leader of the University of Nebraska's soccer team's defense.

It’s Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018 and the Nebraska soccer team is in Madison, Wisconsin for a match against Big Ten foe Wisconsin. Twenty minutes into the game, Nebraska defender then-junior Sinclaire Miramontez is faced with a situation she’s managed hundreds of times in her soccer career: chasing a pass down the sideline with an opposing forward in tow.

If you’ve followed the Husker soccer team closely over the past few years, you may have a good idea of how this situation would play out. It would be logical to think that Miramontez, an All-Big Ten defender and a U.S. Women’s Youth National Team trainee, would delay the attack or win the ball back from the Badgers.

Only this time, that didn’t happen. The Wisconsin forward made contact with Miramontez, throwing her off balance. She took a misstep, and as her foot remained stuck in the ground her knee continued to move forward. Miramontez fell, realizing instantly the damage that had been done to her knee.

“As I was falling I heard three or four pops and I instantly knew something was wrong,” Miramontez said. “It’s always scary to hear the pops because that’s what everyone who has went through a serious knee injury talks about.”

Miramontez went off the field and was evaluated by the trainer. She wouldn’t return not only for the remainder of the Wisconsin game, but also for the rest of the season. In that moment, however, Miramontez wasn’t concerned about the state of her knee. Nebraska was in a five-team fight for the final three spots in the Big Ten tournament, and Miramontez wanted to do whatever she could to help her team win. 

“I could worry about what was going on with myself after the game, but my team still needed a communicator out there,” Miramontez said. “I was thinking about the team first and what comes next later.”

Nebraska ended up losing to Wisconsin 1-0, but did rally to make the Big Ten Tournament. After defeating the third seed, Ohio State, in penalty kicks the Huskers fell to Minnesota 2-0, ending their season. Despite their brief run in the postseason, the Huskers desperately missed Miramontez’s leadership on the back line.

“Sinclaire is one of the strongest people on our team and a great leader,” senior midfielder Brenna Ochoa said. “I knew that if Sinclaire wasn’t going to be in the game other people had to step up in their leadership roles because her voice is heard strongly throughout the team.”

As Nebraska’s season was ending, Miramontez’s recovery process was just beginning. After the Wisconsin game it was revealed that Miramontez tore her ACL, setting up a long rehabilitation process.

ACL injuries are difficult to recover from, taking an average of six to nine months. However, the biggest hurdle in an ACL injury is not the injury itself, but being able to reach the same level of athletic capability that the athlete was at before the injury. According to the Journal of Sports Medicine, 81% of people return to sports after an ACL injury, but only 55% of people reach the same performance level. Miramonatez was facing an uphill battle and needed to take rehab seriously if she wanted to return to form.

Miramontez faced these challenges head-on, jumping right into rehab in an attempt to return to the field as soon as possible. However, the process proved extremely difficult for her, as she struggled with feeling isolated.

“When you’re in rehab it’s a pretty individual process,” Miramontez said. “It’s mentally challenging and pushing yourself every day to get stronger and get back into it is hard.”

In addition to enduring a solitary rehab, Miramontez was also away from the team for a good majority of the offseason. As the team’s anchor and vocal leader, she stated that “it sucked” to be away from the team for such a long period of time. While Miramontez was unable to play, the coaching staff ensured she was still involved with the team. She continued to go to practices and defensive meetings, sharing her experiences in order to help the team succeed.

Despite remaining involved with the team, Miramontez continued to struggle with the recovery process. She said was the toughest part of rehab was dealing with the Blood Flow Restriction Machine, a device that cuts off blood flow to the affected muscle in order to strengthen it. The machine is commonly used in ACL therapy, but it often makes patients endure excruciating pain — Miramontez emphasized that this was the case during her rehab process. Dealing with the machine and the other physical demands of therapy took a mental toll on Miramontez, but her teammates were there to pick her up.

“There are definitely days where you want to quit and you don’t think you can do it anymore, but honestly having my teammates around and supporting me got me through it,” Miramontez said. “The amount of support and care we have in this program is unbelievable.”

Ochoa reiterated the fact that the team was there for Miramontez every step of the way. Her and the rest of the team knew they needed to be there to encourage their leader when she was going through her lowest points of rehab.

“Honestly the biggest thing for us is just emotional support,” she said. “We can’t be there physically, but emotionally just being there for them is the biggest thing.” 

Not only did the team’s support inspire Miramontez to return as quickly as possible. She emphasized that she wanted nothing more than to finish her senior season with her class, and that drove Miramontez to push through the low points she endured this offseason.

After a physically and emotionally taxing offseason, Miramontez was cleared for full contact when training camp began on Aug. 5. Despite not being at 100% at the beginning of camp, the energy around the team was higher now that Miramontez was back.

“I feel like the energy around the team is up because we all know she’s back and stronger than before,” Ochoa said. “I’m so excited to play next to her on the field this year and I’m really happy for her.”

Not only were Miramontez’s teammates happy to see her back, but the national media was also eager to see her return to her previous form. She was selected to the Mac Hermann Watch List before the season — an award presented to the best player in women’s college soccer. While preseason awards are nice, Miramontez is more focused on helping the team win.

“It’s always nice to be recognized for those things but at the end of the day it’s just preseason watch lists,” Miramontez said. “It doesn’t mean anything until you see where you finish at the end of the season.”

Over the first few weeks of camp and into the preseason, Miramontez slowly built her endurance back up. Now, she’s back to playing heavy minutes for the Huskers. She played all 90 minutes in Nebraska’s 2-0 loss to Clemson on Friday, Aug. 30 and 110 minutes in Nebraska’s 1-1, double overtime draw against Baylor. Miramontez also scored her first goal of the season against Baylor, a long-range strike to level the game at 1.

And the most encouraging news? Miramontez looks just as strong — maybe even stronger — than she was before she tore her ACL.

“I think she’s so much stronger now than she was before,” Ochoa said. “It’s really inspirational for all of us that she’s back.”

Miramontez is the leader of the Nebraska soccer team, and her presence was sorely missed last season and during the offseason. Now that she’s back and healthy, the team is ready to make a run in the Big Ten. More than anything — more than the accolades, the U.S. Youth National Team training and the increasing prospect of a professional career after her time in Lincoln — Miramontez is just grateful to be back.

“When you have your sport taken away from you it makes you realize how much you truly love it and how much of an outlet it is for you,” she said. “So, I’m enjoying every little moment while I have it.”