April 27, 2011
By Dean Caparaz '90
BERKELEY - Emily Abbood won't let a series of Jobean setbacks get her down.
A midfielder on the California lacrosse team, Abbood has managed to stay positive in the face of some truly daunting challenges that hit her and her team over the past two years - including the life-threatening ailment of former teammate Tighe Hutchins last season as well as the initial elimination of the lacrosse program this year.
And then the last straw dropped - and sidelined her for her senior season - when Abbood suffered a torn ACL in her left knee last fall.
"Our team's been through a lot, especially with the Tighe thing last year," Abbood said recently. "That was tough. It showed how close our team is and how much we care for each other. We've overcome a lot of obstacles. I'm impressed with how we carry ourselves, focus and go to practice every day.
"[Coaches] Theresa [Sherry], Meredith [Simon Black] and Nikki [Lieb] have done a great job keeping us focused on a championship, on what's important. They tell us that some things are out of our hands and that we need to control what you can control. We're sticking together and just working hard. It's pretty hard but pretty impressive."
When Hutchins fell ill in the fall of 2009, the team banded together and mobilized a large blood drive - involving the Cal, lacrosse and San Francisco Bay Area communities - to replenish local blood banks drained by Hutchins' surgeries. The Bears also provided emotional support for Hutchins, who eventually recovered. Last fall, Abbood was in attendance and spoke to the crowd when the American Red Cross honored the Bears for their courage in supporting their former teammate.
Abbood was looking forward to her senior season. A two-time member of the MPSF All-Academic team, she was on pace to graduate with a degree in public health and had medical school - and a career as an orthopedic surgeon or emergency room doctor - on her mind. On the field, it was going to be the first season in which the champion of Cal's conference - the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation - earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which would mean a smoother road to the postseason for MPSF teams. West Coast representation in the postseason has been scarce, as the only western team to reach the NCAA Tournament has been Stanford in 2006 and 2010.
And then the Golden Bears learned of the program's elimination - as well as the elimination of three other teams and the reclassification of rugby as a varsity club - in late September, as the athletic department worked to reduce its need for University funding.
"I was completely devastated," Abbood said. "But while it was really upsetting, we knew it was a long road."
Back in 2012?
Her road became even longer when she suffered the first knee injury of her career in a late October practice.
"There was literally like a minute left in practice," she said. "I was just going to goal, went to go cut and heard a loud noise, and that was it. I tore my ACL."
Abbood returned home to Jamestown, R.I., to have surgery and realized that playing this season was likely a lost cause. She hopes to return for a fifth year next season.
This year, she can warm up (but not practice) with the team before games. Abbood has also stayed involved by being a vocal presence on the sideline to support her teammates.
"I'm staying positive," she said. "Having the support of my teammates and focusing on the team has been really helpful. Just cheering for the team and doing anything I can to lead while not being on the field has been a change, but I think I'm getting the hang of it."
Her on-field absence has been yet another challenge for the Bears.
The veteran is one of Cal's best players who rose through the ranks to become a regular in the starting lineup as a sophomore in 2009. "Boody," as she's known, is one of just three seniors on the 2011 squad and is one of four co-captains, including seniors Allie Shropshire and Chapin Jackson and junior Tara Arolla. A versatile player, Abbood has spent time in defense and in midfield. But with a young attack this season, Sherry, Cal's fourth-year head coach, was considering moving Abbood forward to give the attack a steady, veteran presence.
"We've missed her spark and ability to run the midfield," Sherry said. "Obviously from a depth perspective we miss her on the field. Also, it's tough to lead off the field. She's done a great job as a captain, but we miss her on the field and miss her poise for us. It's kind of a young group. Just having another field general out there is important, especially in midfield, where we have a junior, sophomore and a couple of freshman. And she was always that person who would come up with the big play, getting us the ball when we needed it - winning draws and 50-50 battles in midfield."
The team's road of course continues. On Feb. 13, hours before Cal lost its season opener at home against then-No. 10 Notre Dame, the University announced the reinstatement of the lacrosse, rugby and women's gymnastics programs.
"I was shocked," Abbood said. "I was also really excited, and I knew everybody's minds were going to be all over the place. Chapin, Shrop and Tara tried to get everybody on the same page for the first game. We would deal with reinstatement stuff later and focus on getting a win, though it was definitely a shock and definitely exciting.
"It got me thinking about next year. When I tore my ACL and knew the team was cut, I made plans to graduate and go on from there. Once we were reinstated, I thought about coming back for a fifth year and playing. It took some convincing with my parents, but I'm excited to hopefully be playing next year."