The look on her face says it all.
Cloverdale’s Nikki Wright had just scored her first goal of the season, to momentarily tie the score at one.
A look at the picture shows pure, raw emotion.
What it doesn’t show is the behind-the-scenes-work over the past 14 months leading up to this point.
“It was an incredible feeling, we were at home in front of our fans, my last home opener,” Wright described of the goal.
It came in the 85th minute of the Trinity Western Spartans match against the visiting Victoria Vikes last month, the second game of the Canada West soccer season.
“It felt the same as it was in my first year,” she said.
“I remember having so much energy and loving the sport and having so much fun.
“I think as time went on, that kind of gotten taken away a little bit.”
And it took a serious knee injury for Wright to rediscover her passion for soccer.
Wright remembers everything about the play.
It was July 27, 2012 and on an artificial turf field in Chilliwack.
She was playing for the Fraser Valley Action — a summer soccer team made up of Trinity Western players which plays in the Pacific Coast Soccer League — in a semifinal game.
Her knee was sore going into the contest and very early on, as she was running down the sideline, the opposing player gave her a bit of a nudge. Wright’s right knee gave out.
“I knew something bad had happened; I had heard a pop,” she recalled.
It took a few days, but an MRI revealed a fully ruptured ACL and an almost fully-torn meniscus.
The 23-year-old Wright has been playing soccer since she was nine years old.
She progressed through the ranks of the Langley Girls FC program — now a unisex called Langley FC — and after graduating from Langley Secondary in 2008, earned a scholarship to join the Trinity Western program.
And Wright made an immediate impact, scoring a dozen goals that first season and winning both the Canada West and Canadian Interuniversity Sport national rookie of the year award.
She also helped the Spartans win the 2008 CIS national title.
In her first four seasons of the blue and gold, Wright scored 36 goals and set up another 16 in 73 games played.
The team also won CIS titles in both 2008 and 2009.
Being taken away from the game was a foreign concept for Wright.
“It was extremely difficult,” she admitted. “I had never had to sit in the stands. If I have been injured, I have been on at least the bench with the team.
“It was really hard because I felt a little bit more disconnected from the team with my injury.”
Last season would have been Wright’s fifth and final year of CIS eligibility.
Her plans were to graduate — she is majoring in kinesiology — and then step back from soccer, travel the world and return to school for her masters in physiotherapy.
But now everything had changed.
Wright was on track to graduate last spring, but instead is completing her final credits this fall.
She put her efforts into rehabbing her knee.
While her teammates were on the field practising, Wright was spending two to three hours daily on treatment and working out.
On the field, the Spartans had another successful season, culminating in the program’s fourth national championship.
While some players may have felt bothered by not being able to contribute, the fact the team didn’t need her made things easier for Wright.
“It is harder when my team is not having success because you want to do everything you can to impact the game,” she explained. “You want to do everything you can to help them, especially through the harder times.”
And it was away from the game that Wright was able to re-discover her passion for the sport.
“I see my injury as almost being one of the best things that has happened to me,” she explained.
“I have learned a lot about myself.”
Soccer was beginning to take over Wright’s life.
“I was putting so much emphasis on sport, on my performance, it would affect my mood, my perception of myself.
“When I had a bad game, I would hate the sport, or when I was in a funk, I would be down.
“But then I realized when it was taken away from me, that the sport doesn’t define who I am; it actually made me love it even more.”
Wright spend her time away from the game creating relationships, especially with the team’s younger players, taking on a mentoring role.
“From an outside perspective, you could see what some of the girls were going through,” she said.
The surgery was done in two parts, first the meniscus repair and then a couple of months later, the ACL reconstruction.
While Wright says her knee feels strong, there is some soreness from time to time.
But when she is on the field, it is the furthest thing from her mind, as she said there is no hesitation in her game.
One change has been the fact Wright is being eased into the game, gradually building up the minutes she plays.
Her surgeon, the athletic therapy team and the coaching staff all work in consultation in determining her minutes.
The most she has played in one game is a combined 70 minutes.
And while in the past Wright may have wanted to be on the field all the time, she is enjoying her new role.
“I kind of played a similar role with the Whitecaps when I was younger, and I valued every minute that I got because I would only get 10 to 30 minutes in one of those games,” she explained.
“So it is kind of exciting for me when I do get on the field to go all-out and then get subbed off.
“I know going in that I have 30 minutes to make a difference, so there is no holding back.
“I can come in and make that difference rather than conserving my energy and choosing when I go hard.”
Head coach Graham Roxburgh called Wright’s return “a joyful addition” to the team.
“It is very hard to expect the Nikki of old,” he added. “(But) she adds pace and her attacking flair.”
– Gary Ahuja, Black Press