Goalie overcomes ‘Savage’ knee injury

Vanessa Martinez & Eduardo Almaguer/ FIUSM Staff

(Beacon File Photo)

Playing for Harbor FC, Kaitlyn Savage jumped in the air to head the ball when her opponent hit her to throw off her balance. As she landed, she immediately knew something was wrong. Then she heard the crack. Savage crippled to the floor and cried out in pain. She had blown out her knee.

The then sixteen year old was sure she had played her last soccer game. She had torn her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), lateral and medial meniscus, and had broken her femur.

“It was the worst pain in my life. The turning point in my career,” Savage said.

After many surgeries and months of physical therapy, Savage finally decided to get back on the field. Not only did she return to play, but also she played even stronger and with more motivation.

“I could have just quit but during the time I couldn’t play I realized how much I love the game and how much I missed it,” Savage said.

At age 18, she joined the HPFC Eagles, where many college coaches, including FIU’s current head coach, Thomas Chestnutt, saw her play. After scouting her, Chestnutt was impressed with what he saw.

“In all aspects of this game, she had the raw tools already there, they just needed to be refined,” Chestnutt said. “Balls stick to her hands like flypaper. We were super excited when we saw her.”

It was at that time, in 2008, when Savage had decided that FIU would be her destination.

“I was given an amazing opportunity to live somewhere new, meet new people, get an education, and play soccer.”

Chestnutt remembers a phone call he received from Savage the summer before her arrival in Miami. The goal keeper, accustomed to the cool weather from Washington, asked her coach-to-be if she should instead train in sweatpants and sweaters to emulate the hot weather from Miami. Chestnutt was shocked and told her absolutely not. He still chuckles at the call.

“She wanted to make sure that she did everything in her power to be ready. You don’t find that in every player. You don’t see a player asking you ‘can I do more?’” Chestnutt said. “Most people ask you what’s the minimum I can do to be ready.”

During her freshman year at FIU, Savage was able to experience winning the championship game as well as being honored as Sun Belt Conference freshman of the year.

Above all that, however, stands one memory that she still cherishes. It was on Aug. 30, 2009 when the goalkeeper got her first start against Florida Gulf Coast University in front of a crowd of more than 300 fans. The game ended in a 0-0 tie.

“I was more nervous than I had ever been about anything before,” Savage recalled.

Unfortunately, Savage tore her ACL and meniscus for a second time during her spring semester of her freshman year in a spring game, and she was out until September. She was then red-shirted for the 2010 season.

“We certainly did miss her,” Chestnutt said.  “She proved herself to be our number one keeper and certainly could’ve helped us.”

But once again, she did not let the injury get the best of her, and she recovered just in time to help the team power through the 2011 season.

Savage, who started 22 of the team’s 23 games that year at goalkeeper, recorded 110 saves and blocked 81 percent of shots, a mark that ranked fourth in the conference. Savage also recorded eight shutouts, good for third overall.

Then came the conference championship against Western Kentucky in 2011.

Savage remembers the drama surrounding that game and how it was a 0-0 tie after double overtime. FIU eventually won the penalty kicks, 4-3.

“I was so confident that we were going to win. It’s something that we as a team have been talking about since my freshman year, getting a ring. Now that it’s happened, it still feels surreal at times,” Savage said.

Savage has one year left in an FIU uniform, and Chestnutt knows that her hard work is what has made the biggest impact.

“Her work ethic is a model for older and younger players while she’s been here. Just seeing her willingness to excel and to be the best that she can be will be part of what she’ll leave behind.”

sports@fiusm.com

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