Julia Palermo gave a subtle jab step to change direction, then down she went, supine on the lacrosse field and screaming in agony.
At the scorer's table was her best friend and Locust Valley teammate, Preston Tansill, who said immediately, "It sounds like an ACL." That ominous shrill was familiar to Tansill, who had torn her right anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus only weeks before.
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"I heard a pop and a 'ch-ch-ch'," Palermo said, recalling what later was diagnosed as a complete tear of the right ACL. "It was an indescribable pain."
That happened on April 4.
Both girls, sporting cumbersome knee braces, played in the Falcons' field hockey season opener against Clarke, and Palermo scored.
That happened on Sept. 11.
"It means the world to me," Palermo said. "It felt like I was really back."
What drives a teenager to rush back from a major injury?
Tansill, a junior, hopes to play field hockey collegiately and conceded she "might've pushed a little too hard." Palermo, described by coach Sandy Jozefowski as "the most unselfish player," said she felt obligated as a captain. Locust Valley's leading scorer, Bairre Reilly, likely will miss the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. "No way could I let the team go without both of us," Palermo said.
The girls deal with occasional knee pain -- Tansill said she is "about 85 percent" -- and Jozefowski limits their playing time. But it's no less remarkable that both girls, each of whom had 14 points last season, returned less than six months after surgery.
"At first you're just concerned about the pain," Tansill said, "then it hits you that you can't walk on your own for four weeks. That's frustrating." But, Palermo said, doctors said "people have come back in 4-6 months, and we were motivated."
What followed was a grueling rehabilitation process over the summer: Ice. Workout. Ice. Physical therapy sessions from which "I'd walk out dripping sweat," Palermo said. More ice. Repeat.
Just a week before Tansill's surgery, their friend and former Portledge star Addie Reilly had a similar operation. The trio went through the recovery together and served as one another's support system, Tansill said.
While Tansill and Palermo recuperated, without anyone else being certain of their return, their Falcons teammates "pushed themselves to improve," Jozefowski said. Locust Valley is a playoff contender in Nassau Class B and, if all goes well, both stars could be healthy down the stretch. "Having them back fully, on top of the other progress," the coach said, "would be perfect."