Pine-Richland senior recovers from injury, rekindles passion for field hockey

Sunday, September 17, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Most athletes love the sport they play, but Khushi Saini’s connection with field hockey is special.

It became her outlet to flourish after moving to the Pine-Richland school district from India in seventh grade.

Last year, though, that outlet was temporarily taken away.

Saini suffered a torn ACL in her left knee while participating in a summer camp in July of 2022, which made her miss her entire junior season with the Rams.

But after a long, difficult recovery process, she returned to the field this fall and is a team captain.

“When I was able to play field hockey again, it was the most freeing experience,” Saini said. “It was almost like falling in love with the sport all over again, and I think I came back a much better player. The skills I had before I got hurt compared to the skills I have now I feel like are almost doubled.

“I’ve put much more into physical training and have increased my stamina. Sitting on the bench, you see the game from a different perspective. It’s not just where you’re playing. You see how everyone contributes to one goal and the chemistry on the field. I don’t think it was good that my injury happened, but there was some good that came out of it.”

Saini was born in India but moved to North Carolina in her early childhood before moving back to India. She was in seventh grade when her family moved into the Pine-Richland school district.

When she first arrived, she had never heard of field hockey but quickly found out it was something she wanted to pursue and made new friends in the process.

“I had a tough time fitting in after moving, and my dad just put me in for middle school (field hockey) tryouts,” Saini said. “I had no idea what was going on, but I liked it. It was a hard time, but field hockey definitely made things easier for me. It was a new passion that I had found for myself.”

That passion grew to a point where she wanted to pursue playing in college, something she still aspires to today.

She entered a seven-day field hockey camp last summer and on the last day was when her knee injury occurred. An MRI confirmed a torn ACL and a long road of rehab and recovery.

“I couldn’t believe it at first,” Saini said. “I had put a lot of effort in. A lot of the girls I played with had been playing since third or fourth grade and I had joined late and was training as much as possible to catch up with everyone else. Then, just as I was ready for my junior season, it was thrown away.”

Saini said the support from her teammates and coaches helped her through her recovery.

While she was resting after surgery, her teammates made a giant sign that read “Get Well Soon” and put it in her front yard.

Saini stayed involved in any way she could last year. She became a team photographer and got water for her teammates when they came off the field. All the while, she was working hard and training to return to full strength.

There was a big support system around her, including Pine-Richland coach Donna Stephenson, who gave her a gift that became a motivational tool.

“Coach gave me a bracelet that said “stay positive” on it and throughout my entire rehab, I had it on my wrist as a reminder of the team’s support and my goal of getting back on the field,” Saini said.

“It helped me keep a positive mindset towards getting better. Every day when I woke up, I felt some sort of progress. I trusted the process and just kept going.”

Saini recently had a two-goal game in a win over Hempfield. Along with Jessica Albertson and Sara Neuhart, Saini was named a team captain. She wasn’t able to be on the field when the Rams won their fourth consecutive WPIAL championship last fall, but she’s ready to help the team try to win a fifth.

“Being voted as a high school captain is an unbelievable honor,” Saini said. “Coming from sitting on that bench and being a water girl for everyone to being back and even better I think is major progress. It’s a big responsibility, and I’m going to make sure that I lead the team towards winning a fifth consecutive WPIAL title and hopefully states after that.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


More Field Hockey

Aquinas field hockey rebuilding on the run
Penn-Trafford field hockey off to strong start as team eyes 8th straight WPIAL title
Drive for 5 underway for Pine-Richland field hockey
Shady Side Academy, Fox Chapel field hockey standouts pick up all-star honors
PIAA postpones soccer, field hockey semifinals to Wednesday