Makenna Schoolman’s triumphant return to the field

Courtesy+%2F+Jake+Levy

Courtesy / Jake Levy

Josh Carlson , Staff Writer

Following Grand Valley State University women’s soccer’s 2019 season championship, senior defender Makenna Schoolman was on cloud nine. There was nothing in her way from going into her senior season in 2020 and trying for a repeat win with her team. It wasn’t until the disastrous COVID-19 pandemic and a career-threatening injury that her hope for another stellar season began to fade.

When she was sent home due to COVID-19, Schoolman and her teammates consequently spent a long summer off-season doing individual workouts from home, still trying to stay in shape for what they hoped to be another season. After the hard work spent in those long months, the team was informed that the 2020 fall soccer season was canceled.

“To have to work out by ourselves for a very long summer and put in all that work, then be told you’re not going to even get a season, that was hard,” Schoolman said. “To know it was my senior season was even harder.”

After having to skip the fall season, the GLIAC decided to do a shortened spring season in March of 2021. But, in the leading practices to prepare for the short season, Schoolman went down with a season–and potentially career-ending injury.

“I had had a tibial plateau fracture,” Schoolman said. “Which is something that would usually happen in a car accident. One of my teammates and I went in for a tackle and didn’t really see each other. I kind of blacked out, the only thing I remember is my coach coming up to me and having to carry me off the field, and I had to have surgery a week later.”

With the injury, Schoolman’s hopes for a chance to play in a Laker uniform again were low, until the NCAA granted an extra year of COVID-19 eligibility, allowing seniors who missed out on their season to return. Schoolman was all for it.

“I had put in all of that work (that summer),” Schoolman said. “And especially after the result we had in 2019, I couldn’t just walk away from something when I knew I could have that feeling again. I wanted to stay because I wanted to have that feeling again and be a part of this program a little bit longer.”

Schoolman went to work rehabbing her injury, determined to persevere and join her teammates back on the field in the fall of 2021.

“I was told right when I broke it that I would never play soccer again,” Schoolman said. “Much less play this year and this fall. It was my goal to, my friends and I have joked, prove science wrong. I worked really hard through the summer to make sure I was on top of my injury and on top of the rehab. So, it’s just awesome to step back out on the field and have a role on this team not just as an encourager but as a player on the field.”

Coach Jim Conlon is a former collegiate soccer player and is in his first year at the helm of the Lakers. Conlon witnessed Schoolman rearrange her life to add an extra year to her schooling in hopes of returning to the field, and after getting to know her, he did not doubt that she would achieve her goal.

“Makenna is a great player and a special person,” Conlon said. “When you decide to come back for a fifth year, you are making a lot of personal sacrifices and increasing that investment level to yourself, your family, everyone around you. Makenna has obviously given a lot of personal time, energy, and effort to continue to be a part of this amazing program. Candidly that’s why this program is the way it is, is because of women like her.”

After seeing her dedication to the love of the game, Conlon watched Schoolman fight back to make an impact on the field. Not only as a player but a leader to the team. As a first-year coach coming in and inheriting players who have been a part of the program for four years, Conlon says Schoolman is the type of player and person that every first-year coach wishes for.

“In coaching, you hear words like culture, and words like attitude, and ‘buy-in,’” Conlon said. “Those are hard things to do; they take a very long time to instill when you are trying to build something the right way. And you have players like Makenna who make this program exactly those things. Culture isn’t a word, it’s a lifestyle to her.”

Now that Schoolman is back in action on the field this season, it’s all she has hoped for. Schoolman and the Lakers are ranked no. 1 overall in Division II with a 15-0-1 record on pace to win the regular-season GLIAC title, and a chance to repeat the Lakers 2019 results.

“It’s awesome; I’m definitely happy with my decision,” Schoolman said. “Especially to be able to be on the field and helping. I couldn’t have asked for a better beginning to the season, but we still have a lot of growth to do, and hopefully a lot longer of a season.”

As for life after soccer, Schoolman had more good news this summer besides knowing she would be able to return on the field.

“This summer, I actually got engaged,” Schoolman said. “My wedding is on July 23, so there is definitely still a lot of planning for that to do. I do have a job, I am a licensed insurance agent, and I will continue to do that after school; right now, I’m part-time, and after school, I will be full-time doing the nine to five job. Then, just finding myself after being an athlete, finding a new ‘title,’ I guess.”

Although the beginning of her future is right around the corner, Schoolman is focused on the now, playing so she can put the “cherry on top” of her return to play for the coveted Division II National Title.