The midfielder who started 19 out of 20 games for the Linfield women's soccer program in the 2012 season is nowhere to be found on the roster this year.
Though Julia Vaughan walked across the stage with her classmates last May, she decided to remain at Linfield for the fall semester of 2013. As a fifth-year senior, she could take a few more classes to augment her exercise science degree in preparation for graduate training at physical therapy or med school, but she'll be the first to admit that she wanted most of all to use her fourth year of athletic eligibility and play on her beloved soccer team one last time.
That hope was dashed in one crushing instant the day before the first game of the season.
“I was just warming up at practice, probably going about half-speed,” Vaughan remembers. “I passed the ball and went to cut, and my knee just buckled.”
Her hopes that it was nothing serious were short-lived. X-rays shortly after the incident revealed that she had torn the meniscus and ACL in her right knee—and not for the first time, either. She suffered the same injury—once in each of her knees—her sophomore and then senior years of high school.
“She told me it was her second Senior Night game that she had to sit out with a torn ACL,” says recent graduate and assistant coach Tessa D'Alessandro. “Being Julia, of course she tried to just brace it and play at first, but it needs some pretty serious surgery because she's been through the same injury before. It's devastating for her, and for the whole team, really. It's a huge bummer.”
Vaughan agrees that it's been a hard few weeks. “I was a captain, playing well, my last year, feeling really good about everything, and then it's just—gone.”
She's quick to add, though, that she has a strong support system on campus. “It's been great to have Tessa here. It's easier to go through the surgery and everything with your best friend right there, and it helps to have her on the sidelines with me, being goofy and keeping it light.”
The two girls met when they both came out for soccer their first season on campus, took the freshman seminar class together, and realized at the end of the semester that they had become best friends.
“We lived together our sophomore and junior years, and right next door to each other last year, as seniors off campus.” D'Alessandro smiles at all the memories. “We always go to practice together. We still carpool, even now.”
The two have been through a lot of ups and downs over the years, and hope to be roommates again in the future. But such a priceless friendship is not the only support Vaughan has to rely on. Her brother, Jackson Vaughan, is an assistant coach for Linfield's football team in the fall and head of the prestigious Catball program come spring.
“I'm sixteen years older, so I was pretty well moved out by the time Julia came along. But having her here on campus the last few years has been a great chance to get to know her,” he says.
The two try to get lunch together once a week, and Auntie Julia is a familiar face to her older brother's wife, Shelly, and two young daughters, Hallie and Reese.
“I'm over at their house pretty regularly. And in the spring, I film all the softball games,” Julia smiles. She enjoys the time spent working in her oldest brother's office putting the clips together.
“Jackson does a lot to help me stay positive,” she says. “When I hurt my knee, he reminded me that I've had a great career at Linfield and that I got to play soccer at a collegiate level at all. That's pretty special. He does a really good job of keeping me present and making sure I don't get too stressed out.”
The two siblings clearly have a high regard for each other. And, considering the fact that she grew up playing sports with—and against—five older brothers, Julia Vaughan's resilience is no surprise. She keeps in touch with all of them, and that family connection is part of what drew her to Linfield from her hometown of Baker City. Tim, the next-youngest sibling in the family, played football at for the Wildcats before graduating in 2008.
“With both Jackson and Tim here, this seemed like the place to go,” she says. She had also hoped to play basketball, and went out for soccer mostly as a way to stay in shape for her favorite sport, but the broken foot that led her to medical redshirt her freshman season on the field kept her off the court, too.
Though head women's soccer coach Dominic Doty has no doubts she could have done it, Vaughan says she realized that being in a sport from August to March would be too much. She says she decided to stick with soccer because she was already a part of the team, and Doty didn't have to work very hard to convince her to come back for another chance to play the fourth season allotted to her.
“We knew Julia was going to be good as soon as she got here,” Doty remembers. “She had a lot of accolades from high school, but it's different to get to know an athlete in person. Julia is certainly very talented, but it's her character that makes her exactly the kind of player a coach wants. I can't take any credit. People like Julia don't come around very often.”
He and D'Alessandro both describe her as hardworking. “It's kind of a family trait, I think,” the assistant coach laughs. Doty says her family may have given her natural coaching tendencies, too.
“She has moved into more of a coach's role this year, after her injury. We wouldn't be as far along as we are without her on the sidelines,” the head coach asserts.
Though she had hoped to be out there with them, Vaughan is eager to be a part of the 2013 soccer season as much as she can.
“It was really hard at first,” she admits. “But I realized that I can't take that moment back. I can't fix my knee. So I might as well enjoy the chance I still have to be a part of the team.”
Doty is very impressed. “She's filling some bigger shoes. She's comfortable in the role of giving direction and sharing her experience, it's just very hard because she wants to be playing. All things considered, she's done a great job.”
A captain for the last two years, she's certainly a dearly beloved leader for the girls on the soccer roster. “She's an inspiration for the older girls and a role model for the younger ones,” D'Alessandro says. “The way she just picked herself up is a huge morale booster.”
The whole team is going to need some of that fighting spirit as their regular season draws to a close. After the one win and one loss this past weekend, Linfield trails the number-one-seeded University of Puget Sound Loggers by a single point in the conference standings.
“Tessa and I were some of the first class of players that Dom recruited,” Julia remembers. “It's been really cool to see the progression and growth on the team, now that we're competing for a conference title.”
Vaughan is excited to see what the next few games hold for her Linfield Wildcat family. Clearly, she believes in making the most of the time that she has with them.
– Lexy Chapman '15