…For Wilton High senior Kyra Hansson, this week’s first game is more than the beginning of a new season — it also marks the end of a long, difficult and scary road to recovery.
An All-State defender for the WHS girls lacrosse team, Hansson tore her ACL last May in the FCIAC championship game, ending her lacrosse season — and her soccer season in the fall, as well.
The injury didn’t sidetrack the college recruitment process; Hansson will be playing Division I lacrosse next year at Dartmouth. But it did put her in an uncomfortable spot — on the sidelines, watching the action instead of creating it.
“It was hard to adjust to being on the sidelines. I’ve always been active and I love sports,” she said. “It was a difficult adjustment.
”But with her knee injury behind her, Hansson is more excited than usual to be back in the game.
“It’s really the best feeling in the world. I have looked forward to this for so long,” she said on the eve of the Warriors’ season opener against Ridgefield on Wednesday.
“It feels good. I’m really trying to give it everything,” she said. “It’s really amazing how far I’ve come. It definitely has shown me I can accomplish a lot. I feel very confident about myself as a individual.”
A rugged defender with good size and tremendous athleticism, Hansson is a four-year starter on the girls lacrosse team — and the Warriors’ leader on the defensive end. She is one of the captains for this year’s team.
“Kyra is a leader in so many ways this year — on the field as a great voice and director on defense, at practice by giving 100% at every drill and expecting nothing less from her teammates, and in general as an inspiration for not letting her injury bring her down,” said WHS co-coach Cindy Wiseman.
Hansson’s injury happened on what seemed a harmless play during the Warriors’ win over New Canaan in the FCIAC title game last May 28 at Brien McMahon High School.
Hansson was trying to save a ball that was rolling out of bounds near midfield, and stumbled trying to do so, falling out of bounds — and twisting her knee in the process.
“It was so painful, more than anything I ever felt,” said Hansson, who sensed immediately that she had suffered the injury so common to so many athletes — a torn ACL.
The Warriors went on to win the FCIAC title without her, and then reached the state Class M title game — but they certainly were a lesser team without Hansson, who was also the team’s face-off specialist.
As a junior, Hansson was in the midst of the recruiting process — and her injury, ironically, helped clarify things. The response from coaches gave her a good sense of who she would like to play for, because those were the coaches who kept in touch.
“It showed me what coaches were the nice ones,” said Hansson, an IWLCA Academic All-American last year.
One of those was Dartmouth head coach Amy Patton, who had torn her ACL three times.
“She e-mailed me right after the injury and said everything’s going to be OK,” said Hansson, who made her decision to play for Dartmouth in late July, just weeks after her surgery.
“I’m really excited,” she said of playing for Dartmouth, where she will join two other top FCIAC players — Darien’s Courtney Bennett and Greenwich’s Hana Bowers — as part of next year’s freshman class. Hansson and Bennett are already close friends, having played soccer together since an early age.
Dartmouth under coach Patton has become one of the premier Division I programs in the country. Patton has won eight Ivy League titles in 15 years at the helm. The Big Green in the last 10 years has made the NCAA tournament seven times — making the semifinals three times and the finals once, in 2006.
Coming out of the summer, Hansson’s focus turned on rehabilitating her knee.
“I had a goal each week. The first week was trying to get out of bed without any help,” she said. “Everything was pretty slow.”
Hansson couldn’t play soccer in the fall, but she was still an important member of the team and was able to be a part of the WHS girls soccer team’s march to the state title.
“It was definitely really hard as a senior, not being able to play,” she recalled. “But they won states and I was so proud of them.”
Hansson finally began to do some light running by the end of last year, slowly building up her strength to the point where she was ready to play again. She has to wear a brace on her knee, but appears to be back to where she was a year ago. Coach Wiseman said Hansson’s play has been “phenomenal” thus far.
“She has come back stronger and more focused, but at the same time she is calmer. She really seems to be having so much fun out there now with no pressure,” Wiseman said. “She appreciates the fact that she is able to play.”
Hansson concurred. After everything she’s gone through, “just to be out playing again” is something to be grateful for.
“It’s given me a totally new perspective,” she said. “Now, it’s just fun. If we don’t have a practice, I get bummed.”