Laurel Ivory (Surfside, Fla.), a rising senior on the Virginia women’s soccer team, suffered a season-ending injury in the ACC Championship final against North Carolina last season. The goalkeeper posted the best single-season goal against average in program history (0.31) and helped the Cavaliers post a stretch of seven consecutive shutouts in ACC play during the regular season. Hoos Life caught up with Ivory to talk about the injury that ended her junior campaign, the recovery process, and how she has been staying busy and ready to return to the pitch when the opportunity arises.
Q: Your season ended early due to an injury in the ACC Championship match. Can you take us through that?
Ivory: I don’t really remember much from when I got hit. I was really confused as to what was going on. The first thing I remember is our trainer and team doctor standing over me and begging them to let me stay in the game. I didn’t have any idea what was wrong other than that the side of my face was hurting. They took some X-rays and told me I might have broken my jaw and I was like “what?” because I had no recollection of what had happened. The next 48 hours were just really fast because I went to the hospital, got more scans done and then we drove home. The next day I was in the hospital for surgery and had surgery that night. I was pretty good, but was bummed that my season was over.
I got home after spending the night and that is when it really hit. I had spent the first 72 hours without food and it hit me really hard that I was in no place to be on the field. It hit how promising our season had been and how good we were and the work we had done up to that point. It was really confusing the first 48 hours because I wasn’t sure what was going on, but the day after the surgery is when it all hit me and I was really struggling.
Q: Can you talk about the emotions with a season and game that were going well and what role your teammates played in helping you pull out of the emotional place you were in?
Ivory: I have never felt more loved in my life than when I was at the hospital in North Carolina. I went to the hospital and didn’t get to see the team at all. They took me straight to the hospital and I was still in my uniform and everything. The team finished the match and the hope was I could get out of the hospital in time for me to jump on the bus when it was time for the team to go home, but obviously hospitals don’t work like that.
They got to the hospital and the coaches got off the bus and everyone else was sitting on the bus. We were just waiting and I told them they could just go ahead and leave and I’d ride with the team doctor. They wouldn’t go. I texted the whole team in our group chat and told them I had said to leave and was so sorry because they couldn’t leave. And they all texted back that they were not leaving and were staying until I could come back with them. That was exactly what I needed in that moment. I got on the bus maybe an hour and a half after I sent that message and was really emotional getting on the bus because they had waited for me and greeted me. It was an overwhelming amount of love they gave me. The support they showed me after surgery to come visit. I couldn’t talk and for them to just sit with me and watch movies was what I needed. Everyone on the team was able to do that. I think that was something super special about that team last season was how much we loved each other and were a family. It’s sad for me to realize that situation is what it took for me to realize how much love we had for each other, but I’m grateful for it.
Q: Have you talked to the North Carolina player, Briana Pinto, that you had the collision with in the championship game?
Ivory: Her mom came and saw me at the hospital. We are family friends and have known each other a long time. She told my mom she was coming to see me because my family wasn’t at the game. They reached out several times to check on me after the surgery. The entire North Carolina team sent me a card that they all signed and wrote messages in there. That meant a lot to me. They’re a bunch of competitors and to see they went out of their way to make sure I was alright meant a lot.
Q: Have you gone back and watched the moment to see what happened?
Ivory: I find this story funny now, but it probably wasn’t in the moment. I don’t remember a two to three minute stretch of what happened, but someone sent me the replay and I was like “I don’t remember any of these people coming up to me or saying anything to me.” I remember asking D (Diana Ordoñez) if she came and checked on me because she always is right next to me when something happens and I don’t remember seeing her there. She said “Yeah, I was right there until they told me to leave. I thought you would get back up, but when you didn’t, I ran over to you. Someone said your tooth had fallen out, so I literally pulled your lip down to look at your teeth and they were all there, so I thought you were fine.” I didn’t remember a thing about that. I can look at the collision now and be a bit better about it. The fact that I don’t remember it is a good and a bad thing. It scares me a bit, but it’s probably good that I don’t remember what happened afterwards because I would have been much more scared of what was going on.
Q: What was the rehab like and what did you have to do as part of your recovery?
Ivory: So I have eight screws and two plates in my jaw over the fractures. They did everything through my mouth, so there are no scars on my neck. Kudos to Dr. Hill because I don’t know how they did that. So there are a bunch of stitches running throughout my mouth and jaw line. I didn’t talk for two weeks and carried a white board with me everywhere. I only wrote what I needed to write and had people with me to ask questions. I didn’t go anywhere for a week because of the medication, but then slowly started going back to school. It was a liquid-only diet for six weeks. There wasn’t much rehab, but it was just giving it time to heal. After about two or three weeks I could move it a little bit, but it got really sore. I had metal wirings running through my top and bottom gums. I got those taken out four days before Christmas, so I was able to eat on Christmas Day which was amazing. It was all soft foods, but that’s when I started working solid foods back into my diet and gaining back the weight I had loss. I had a couple of things done this past semester to fix my back tooth I lost. It’s six months later and I’m done with the whole injury.
Q: What role did you have in being there for Michaela Moran as she took over for you in goal and the team heading into the postseason?
Ivory: I think it was pretty tough for her because she saw the worst of everything I was going through. I pretty much lived in our living room and my mom was with me the whole time. We live together. She saw my recovery process play out in my living room because I had people coming to see me and didn’t want to be in my room all day. It was hard to support her and the team without talking, so that was a bit of a challenge. I found myself just trying to show up in different ways. The week of my surgery, I showed up to any practice or meeting they would let me (go to). If I could stay for 10 minutes, I stayed for 10 minutes. If it was 30 minutes, then I stayed for 30 minutes. Since I couldn’t’ talk, I wrote Michaela a message to let her know we had her back and the team believed in her and had her back. The situation she was given wasn’t easy, especially in the post-season. She owned it and did the best she could and I am so proud of her for that.
Q: You were getting ready to start the spring training season and the COVID-19 pandemic hit. How did you handle that when you heard the news?
Ivory: That was really hard because I was looking forward to getting a game in since the last game I played was when I got hurt. We were looking forward to the spring as a team to try new things out. We were looking forward to it. We had a challenging spring because we had been so good last season and we didn’t feel like we were matching that level of performance yet, but we weren’t going to let our standards and expectations for what we were capable of doing slip. The first thing that happened was our spring game against Duke got cancelled and I remember how mad I was about that. Then everything got cancelled. That hurt, but I think it hurt for every single program because we are all in the same boat. We just have to find a way to make up for that time lost once new information comes out about when we can come back, when we can practice and if we will have a season. I was just looking forward to playing a game that I didn’t get hurt in and that bummed me out.
Q: You’ve mentioned you have a training partner you are quarantined with and stayed here in Charlottesville. How are you handling that and how are you maintaining fitness and skills?
Ivory: It’s been a lot of field hopping and finding a safe space of grass to drill on. I only have about two places I go, which are a field and my house. I think I’m in the best possible position given the circumstances, which is why I am here and not at home with my family. I want to take advantage of things that I wouldn’t have worked on necessarily if we were in a team environment. I think we’re capitalizing on it as a team and personally. But, we’re six weeks in or so and we miss each other a lot. We’re having team Zoom calls. I think the biggest challenge has been finding a consistent place to drill.
Q: How have you been able to stay connected as a team since chemistry and bonds can be as important as physical gifts when it comes to a team sport?
Ivory: We have two team meetings a week. We split the team into three family groups. Taryn (Torres), Anna (Sumpter) and I each have a group that we work with. We have other leaders on the team who are upperclassmen running those groups as well. We’ve been trading workouts. Sending updates on our physical and emotional well-being. Recently, we have begun incorporating our incoming players into those smaller groups. We’re trying to get them used to our personalities and trying to get to know them more. It’s been good to get to know them and let them know they are part of our plans and what our standards are for our expectations next season. It’s a chance to help minimize that transition period when they get to Grounds next season.
Q: What are you doing to stay active mentally and physically in this time?
Ivory: I watch a lot of Netflix. I’ve also been quarantined with my boyfriend, Austin Katstra, and been able to go on walks with him and his family in this time. It’s nice to have a home-cooked meal because there is only so much my ability to cook chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese will get me in a week. I’ve been busy with Zoom meetings, class, schoolwork and working out. I set a routine early in this process which has been helpful. I try to keep myself involved in as many things as possible. I volunteer if someone needs help with something and I stay in contact with the team.
I’ve also been reading a lot. I read a lot of Christian books on how to deal with adversity. I try to keep up with the news more because I have been really bad with that. Twitter helps, but there is only so much Twitter you can take and your screen time just shoots up.
Q: What are you most excited about when we come out of this situation?
Ivory: I’m beyond excited for my last year and making it a good one. I am sad it’s my last year, but I graduated high school a year early and never got to experience what a senior year was like. It’s new for me. It’s really new for everyone since none of us have experienced a pandemic like this. I’m excited to be a senior, see what that feels like and lead the way a senior should be leading. I’m ready to soak in all of the last moments and be with my teammates through it all. I can’t wait to see everyone because it’s been so long. We are all really close still and we’re ready to get back on Grounds and work for next season. I think everyone will pour their heart and souls into it with the outcomes we had last season.
Q: How are you staying in touch with your family through everything and how have you handled being here and not with them?
Ivory: My brother still lives in Miami, but my parents moved to Massachusetts when I came to college. I FaceTime them every day and just talk. I miss them. That’s been the most challenging piece – being away from them when everyone else is home and I’m waking up to an empty apartment. If I was in any other situation, I don’t think I would be here. But, I want to be ready for next season and being here puts me in the best possible environment to be able to do that. Thank God for FaceTime because I wouldn’t make it without that.
Q: If you had a message for Virginia fans and the UVA and Charlottesville communities, what would you say?
Ivory: Obviously, everything that is going on is new to everyone. We’re likely going to have to adjust to a new normal. The only way to get back to something close to the world we had before is to stay safe and keeping our distance. I’m optimistic this will all end soon and we’ll get another amazing season of Virginia women’s soccer. I hope so. I don’t want my last season to be cancelled, but that’s me being selfish. I want everyone to be healthy. The numbers don’t lie about what’s going on in the country. Stay safe and stay active because that helps with being so isolated.