By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – Like her fellow students in the University of Virginia’s School of Nursing, Annie Dyson is passionate about health care. Even so, she could do without the first-hand experience she’s gaining as a patient this semester.
A freshman midfielder on the UVA women’s lacrosse team, Dyson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee Feb. 26 in a 16-8 win over William & Mary in Williamsburg.
Dyson, who’s from Alexandria, meets the guidelines for a hardship waiver and so won’t lose a year of eligibility. But she’s scheduled to have reconstructive surgery Tuesday – Dyson has been getting daily treatment from athletic trainer Blair Putnam Moore to prepare for the operation — and won’t play again this season.
“I’m not going to lie,” Dyson said. “I was devastated.”
She suffered the injury early in the game. “The grass was a little mucky, and I went to pick up a ground ball in the middle of the field, and my knee gave out when I went to dodge,” Dyson said.
“And I knew the second I did it, because I heard the pop. I was in a lot of pain. I knew it right away. It’s one of those things that happens all the time, and you know a lot of people that [have torn their ACLs], but you never really think it’s going to happen to you.”
In one of her fall classes in the nursing school, Dyson said, students “actually had to be able to identify the ACL on a model. I’m pretty familiar with it.”
In little more than four games this season, all of which the Wahoos won, Dyson totaled five goals and five assists. A graduate of St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School in Alexandria, where she starred for legendary coach Kathy Jenkins, Dyson never had a serious injury until last month.
“She worked so hard to be in such a great position to help our team, and she was playing well, and she was doing it with everybody else in mind,” UVA head coach Julie Myers said. “So to see her get knocked out so early, it’s hard for the team, but our hearts just really ache for Annie, because she’s such a good kid.
“All she wanted to do was help these fourth-years get to the Final Four that has eluded them. That whole mindset has really helped her just be a great and complete teammate.”
Dyson knew most of the Cavaliers’ current upperclassmen before she joined the program last summer. They’d played with her sister, Besser, a standout attacker who graduated from UVA in 2017. Moreover, Maggie Jackson, a senior midfielder who’s a four-year starter for Virginia, lives next door to the Dysons in Alexandria.
During the recruiting process, Annie Dyson looked at some other schools, including the University of Pennsylvania, “but this was the one I wanted to be at,” she said. “I knew so much about it, and I wasn’t really interesting in going too far away.”
This is Myers’ 24th season as head coach at her alma mater, and during her tenure multiple sets of sisters have played for the ‘Hoos.
“It’s really fun to get the younger one that’s grown up watching the older sister play and getting to know the team through the older sister’s eyes and then seeing [the younger sister] get her turn,” Myers said.
“We always say that one of the markers of success is if, at the end of a fourth year, that class would say, ‘That was so much fun that I would do it again.’ But then when you actually have a chance to have a [younger] sister really do it again, it’s like whipped cream. You always felt good about the first experience, but then when [the parents] pass that second child forward you’re like, ‘All right, this is for real. This wasn’t just words. They meant it.’ So we were super excited [to add Annie].”
The Dyson sisters are similar, Myers said, “in their makeup. They love to compete. They love their teammates. They’ll do anything to help the team score a goal or get the ball back. They’re very giving as players, and they’re also really even-keeled. They don’t get too excited, they don’t get too down, they’re really very steady, no matter what the situation is.
“Their difference is that Annie has the ability to impact the entire game, starting with the entire draw. Besser was a true attacker and she played at X, so she really was kind of our playmaker-quarterback. She could score, but she really was a great assister. Where Annie has a chance to make defensive plays, win draws, and she’s involved in our transition. So Annie just has more touches on the ball and a chance to impact more aspects of the game.”
Besser graduated with a bachelor’s degree in media studies and now works in New York City. Annie chose a different academic path. In high school, she suffered minor injuries from which an athletic trainer would help her recover. That piqued Dyson’s interest in the medical field, and she considered becoming a physical therapist or an athletic trainer before deciding to pursue nursing.
Over the holiday break, she shadowed nurses in the newborn intensive care unit at Inova hospital in Fairfax, an experience that convinced Dyson she’d chosen the correct career path.
“I think patient care is so important,” she said, “and building a relationship with your patients and people in life is so important, and I think that is such a big part of the profession.”
The nursing curriculum at UVA, challenging to begin with, is especially demanding for student-athletes, who must balance schoolwork with practice, training and competition.
“It’s hard work,” Dyson said, “but it’s work that I like to do, so it’s not something that I dread.”
Kasey Behr, an All-ACC midfielder at UVA, graduated last year with a degree in nursing. Virginia student-athletes currently in the nursing school include Dyson and her teammate Gwin Sinnott, a sophomore from Richmond, and freshman softball player Madi Wilson.
Sinnott has been a tremendous resource for her, Dyson said. “It’s amazing. When I applied and ended up going into nursing, Gwen showed me the ropes, told me what books to get, basically everything. We’re in one of the same classes, too, so we can do stuff together. It’s so nice just having a familiar face with it and having an easy transition going in.”
Kate Stephensen, the academic advisor for women’s lacrosse, communicates regularly with two administrators at the nursing school: Lynn Coyner (BSN academic program manager) and Austin Stajduhar (associate director of undergraduate enrollment and retention).
“They’re very good about advance planning,” Stephensen said, “and helping me know when courses are going to be scheduled, and what time of day, so we can work around practice conflicts. The main challenge third and fourth year is their clinical hours. Their fourth-year spring they have to do about 220 hours.”
Fourth-year nursing students take classes, too, Stephensen noted, “and they’re studying for two exit exams for nursing, and they’ll take their board exams to get their certification in state, because that varies state to state. All of that’s happening while [lacrosse is] in season fourth year.”
Myers said she appreciates the nursing school’s willingness to “make things work as much as they can. They kind of give a little bit, and we give a little bit, and at the end of the day the student-athlete is the one that benefits and leaves with a great degree and hopefully a great playing experience as well.”
Dyson has two older brothers, both of whom played lacrosse in college. She became interested in the sport through them but also played ice hockey in middle school.
“It’s my favorite sport. I love it,” said Dyson, a fervent fan of the Washington Capitals.
At UVA, she’s not the first student-athlete to suffer a torn ACL. She’s heard from others who have had reconstructive knee surgery, including Ryan Conrad, an All-American midfielder on the men’s lacrosse team.
“It’s like a group,” Dyson said. “Everyone has a bond.”
As heartbreaking as it was for her to see Dyson get hurt, Myers said, the timing of the injury was wasn’t bad. Dyson will retain a season of eligibility, and she’ll be able to work with athletic trainer Blair Putnam Moore “for the first few months post-surgery, which is such an important part of that recovery and that rehab,” Myers said.
“So I think by the time she gets to go home for summer, she’ll be in a pretty good spot strength-wise and understand what it takes to push through and what comes next. Sometimes when [players] have that surgery in May and June, it’s really daunting, because then they’re not here over the summer. But she’s going to have Blair with her in March, April, May, and that’s going to make a big difference too.”