Senior Spotlight: Ainsley Baker
There are many words that can describe Ainsley Baker.
Senior. Athletic. Fast. Optimistic. Attacker.
But if you ask her to describe herself in one word, Baker comes up with this response: Grateful.
She is grateful to be playing lacrosse at the University of Virginia after brain surgery threatened her plans for collegiate lacrosse during her high school career. She could also be referencing the fact that she is enjoying a successful senior campaign after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in both her left and right knees.
“A lot of things have happened to me, so I don’t take anything for granted,” Baker says. “I think it’s also because I’ve always been the type of person that would do anything for anyone. It really got me when I was in Boston [for brain surgery], the little girl who was next to me, seven years old, had lymphoma and she was really sick and I was in and out of the hospital pretty quickly. I think it’s one of those things where I’ve been really grateful for all the blessings that I’ve had.”
The stay in a Boston hospital she alludes to was a surgery in Boston Children’s Hospital before her senior year of high school to remove a tumor that was pressing against her optic nerve.
“I had surgery at the very end of August, before my senior year started,” Baker says. “I was out of school for two weeks just because I was exhausted and tired. I had residual headaches but I played in a lacrosse tournament in October and that was that. I haven’t had any problems since. I’ve gone back. I had an MRI this summer just as a check up. It’s one of those things I’ll always have to check up on.”
After letting Virginia and the Cavalier coaching staff know of her recovery, Baker arrived on Grounds a year later in the fall of 2007. She says she knew Virginia was her number one choice after attending a camp in Charlottesville and was thrilled to be playing well during her rookie campaign.
“My uncle played lacrosse at Notre Dame, my dad played lacrosse at Bucknell and two other uncles of mine played lacrosse at Ohio State,” Baker says. “My mom forced me to play. She said I had to try. My neighbor played at Syracuse, so she thought I would be so good at it because she thought I was so fast. I had only been playing for three years, since seventh grade, so I was different compared to a lot of players who have been playing since they were two. I remember [UVa head coach] Julie Myers asking me, when I had just fallen on the green turf and my knees were bleeding because of the turf burn, ‘So do you really want to come to Virginia?’ and I said, ‘Yeah! I really do.’ That was at camp and she said we will keep in touch. And I committed within the next couple of weeks.”
Baker faced adversity during that first season, however, during a fall ball scrimmage at Northwestern. She tore her ACL but had surgery, rehabbed and was practicing in April.
In her second year, although athletically she was a first-year due to the medical redshirt, Baker played in 13 matches and scored her first collegiate goal at Loyola. She followed up that season by becoming a starter in 2010, but again suffered a setback after nine games.
This time it was her other ACL and it came during a stretch where Baker had just been named ACC Player of the Week and scored five goals in a victory against North Carolina.
“It was exactly half way through my third year,” Baker says. “We had played nine games and it was the day before we left for Duke. As soon as I went down, I knew. I was crying. It was one of things where I just knew. That was much harder than my first year.”
Not one to let the injury get her down permanently, Baker again worked hard to return to the field and is now in the midst of her third healthy season (second-consecutive) at Virginia. As a junior, she started 16-of-17 games and scored 28 goals. This season, she has started all five of the Cavaliers’ contests and has tallied eight goals. Baker earned the second ACC Player of the Week award of her career after UVa defeated then-No. 7 Loyola to open the season.
During this, her fifth year in Charlottesville, Baker is pursuing a master’s degree in education and has embraced the role of upperclassman. She says her post-UVa interests include teaching and coaching on the East Coast.
As for what she would like to be remembered for after her lacrosse playing days, Baker sticks with the gratitude theme.
“I would like to be remembered as someone who had a good work ethic. Not necessarily as the girl who tore both ACLs, although I’m already in that category anyway. I’m in the ACL club so I’ve accepted that. I think I’d like to be remembered as someone who never gave up and worked hard to get back. I’ve been grateful to recover from things and I’ve had people help me along the way.”