Deer Lakes soccer’s Nina Lafko dealing with second torn ACL in 12 months

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Monday, October 5, 2020 | 7:45 PM


To have the sport you love taken away from you for a time because of a serious injury such as a torn anterior cruciate ligament can be hard reality to grasp.

But to have the same injury happen just a couple of months after fully recovering from the first is a fate beyond frustration.

Such is the plight of Deer Lakes senior Nina Lafko, who continues to come to terms with the loss of her final varsity season because of her second ACL injury in 12 months.

“I am super competitive. To not be able to play and compete with my teammates is such a terrible feeling,” Lafko said. “I love soccer. I have such a passion for it. It’s been mentally and physically draining at times to have this happen again, especially with it being my senior year.

“At the same time, I try to look at all of this with a positive attitude. Everyone is supportive of my progress. I’ve gotten so many kind words of encouragement. So many people remind me of my goals to get stronger and get past this injury. I have a super support system.”

Lafko, a major contributor to Deer Lakes’ run to the WPIAL Class AA semifinals as a sophomore in 2018, came back for her junior year with high expectations for herself and her team.

The first injury occurred in an early season Section 2-2A victory over East Allegheny. She and others weren’t sure at first if it was, in fact, an ACL tear. But after getting confirmation of the diagnosis, she had surgery and was done for the season.

All Lafko was able to do was watch and support her Lancers teammates as they finished 14-4-1 overall, 9-3 in section play and made the WPIAL quarterfinals.

But she also had a goal of getting back on the field.

“The first time around, I was religiously going to physical therapy three days a week and then was hitting the gym and running the other four days,” she said “The first day after my surgery, I was taking my brace off and doing at-home physical therapy. The entire nine months I was out of soccer, I was going hard.”

Lafko was cleared to return to the field in May, and she joined her Hotspurs Elite club travel team for summer events, including a showcase in Philadelphia in late July. She had a hop in her step as she also was able to again take the field with her Deer Lakes teammates.

But during a high school workout two days after coming home from the showcase, it happened again.

As was the case with the first injury, hope that it was something not as severe turned to acceptance that she had suffered another ACL tear. Last year, it was her left knee. This time, it was her right.

She had surgery early last month and is several weeks into a familiar course of rehab.

“It was upsetting to have to do this all over again, but at least this time, I know what to expect and what it takes to get back,” Lafko said.

The news of Lafko’s second knee injury in as many seasons left her teammates and coaches stunned.

“It was devastating,” Deer Lakes head coach Frank Accetta said.

“She had worked so hard to come back. When you make someone a captain in her sophomore year, that tells you something about what kind of player she is and what kind of leader she is for this team. She scored some big goals for us during that semifinal run two years ago. To not have her for her junior or senior years, it’s extremely tough.

“She’s the kind of player that if you don’t have her, you have to move so many people around to try and make up for that. Not having her in there changes everything we do. But just to have her presence, her knowledge of the game and her experience, there with the team is so beneficial, especially to the younger players.”

Deer Lakes went into Monday’s Section 2 game with Highlands at 6-3 overall and 3-3 in section play. The Lancers edged Elizabeth Forward in nonsection action Saturday for their third win in a row after a three-game losing skid.

Deer Lakes is gearing up for another shot at section rival Freeport on Wednesday. The Yellowjackets won the first meeting, 5-2, on Sept. 21.

“With the (physical therapy) schedule, it can get a little tricky with getting to practice sometimes, but I go to all the games and travel with the team,” Lafko said. “I can’t play, obviously, but I still am trying to do whatever I can to help the team.”

Lafko still holds hope she will play in college. She said she was filmed during three games at the Philadelphia showcase.

“It’s a small sample size, but there is something for coaches to see,” she said.

Lafko said she’s confident that her ability and desire, along with a strong support system from coaches, teammates, friends and family, will give her that chance.

“I can’t imagine going to college and not playing,” she said. “It’s been tough with the injury, especially my junior and senior years, which are big recruiting years. I am hopeful, knowing the things I’ve done in the past, that someone will give me a chance.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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