Recent Winston Churchill High School graduate Jenna Cantor said a female athlete's biggest fear is an anterior cruciate ligament tear.
According to recent studies conducted by the Cincinnati SportsMedicine Research and Education Foundation, the ACL injury rate is 2 to 10 times higher in females than in males.
One in 100 female high school athletes will tear her ACL, and one in 10 women in college athletics will suffer the injury, which involves a ligament in the center of the knee.
Intent on earning a spot in the starting lineup at NCAA Division I Cornell (N.Y.) University, where she is committed to play soccer this fall, Cantor set out to get herself as physically fit as possible in order to match up against more seasoned college athletes.
A big part of that, the Bulldogs two-year leading scorer said, is matching the physicality of bigger, faster and stronger opponents.
Enter Montgomery County-based physical therapists Stacy King and Marcie Schwartz.
The two recently became Sportsmetrics certified and were looking to help young female athletes in the prevention of ACL injuries.
Sportsmetrics, the first ACL injury prevention program that is scientifically proven, was created by a team of athletic trainers, physical therapists and researchers under the direction of Dr. Frank Noyes at Cincinnati SportsMedicine, according to the program's website.
“You start looking around and seeing what's in front of you, all these young kids with knee injuries,” King said. “Jenna was worried about the packet she got from Cornell for summer workout and that she wasn't going to be fit. Her dad came to me and I thought this would be a really good thing to teach her. I was treating [rising Churchill sophomore midfielder] Kate Reese [who tore her right ACL in January] and two other girls.”
Seven county soccer players, including Cantor, Reese and recent Poolseville graduate Ali Nesselt have participated in the six-week, 18-class session.
King and Schwartz are scheduled to run another session in November and hope to continue to expand their program.
The premise of the program, King said, is ACL prevention. But it is broken down into components that are vital to every athlete.
Each class starts with a dynamic warmup to get the muscles ready, followed by agility training, cardiovascular workout, plyometrics (jump training) and then finishes with flexibility and stretching.
Through everything King and Schwartz enforce proper technique and form.
So much as a wrong step could result in an ACL tear, Schwartz said, adding that 70 percent of ACL tears do not result from contact.
One main reasons females are more prone to ACL tears, King said, is that they don't tend to use their quadriceps muscles and hamstrings co-contractively. In other words, they don't stay low enough.
King and Schwartz correct every wrong move, and the repetition over time forms a neuromuscular memory allowing athletes' bodies to learn things such as not to cave in the knees toward each other, the proper alignment and to stay low.
Though Sportsmetrics is for injury prevention, athletes' overall strength and fitness is enhanced through the rigorous and progressive program.
“I see muscles I've never seen before,” Nesselt said. “I feel like I've gotten so much faster. And just kicking the ball around, I just feel so much stronger.”
Cantor said the training has allowed her to perform riskier moves with the soccer ball at her feet, more cuts and pivots, that surely will help her at the next level.
King said there is a 75 percent carryover, neuromuscularly, so in game situations the proper form is instinctive.
Sportsmetrics is not just for soccer players. The general principles of the program can be tailored to athletes in all sports.
With athletes being forced to specialize in sports so early, Schwartz and King said they've seen an influx of injuries among young children, in particular knee ligament injuries.
The minimum age for participation in the program is 12, and they said they hope one day the program is a part of every youth organization, to help build a foundation based on proper technique.
“[An ACL tear] is a huge setback. You have to learn to do everything over again. A lot of tearing your ACL is the mental aspect. People say you're never the same person and that's probably true, you're scared to plant. But everything I've done here has given me confidence in my knee. I can tell that everything has gotten stronger.”