Lying in a hospital bed, her right leg still tender from reconstructive surgery, heart still broken from a playoff loss and mind admittedly loopy from pain meds, some might say that Natalie Grundler wasn’t in the best state to make a life-altering decision.
But then again, the Stone Bridge goalie has known since sixth grade that she wanted to play soccer at Maryland. That notion grew even stronger when she heard the Maryland coaches, who had offered Grundler a scholarship last fall, had texted and called her multiple times after hearing about her gruesome injury in the Bulldogs’ May 29th overtime loss to Yorktown in the Virginia AAA Northern Region semifinals.
Once Grundler felt rested enough, she called the Terrapins and committed, ending a whirlwind first week of June on a high note. The rising senior also held offers from Coastal Carolina, Shippensburg and UNC Charlotte.
“I really liked Maryland; I just needed the strength to call them,” Grundler said. “When they showed how much they cared about me and my leg, I realized I just need to call now and make my decision official because I’ve always loved Maryland.”
In Grundler, the Terps secured a goalie who made 61 saves, recorded nine shutouts and allowed just 12 goals in leading Stone Bridge to a 17-1-2 record. The three-year varsity starter possesses good speed and foot skills, attributes which she’s honed by attending Maryland’s soccer camp the past few years.
Grundler’s untimely injury came in the second half of a tight match against Yorktown with the score knotted at 1. A collision with an opponent resulted in a broken tibia and a fractured fibula, although initially Grundler didn’t feel much pain.
“I looked at my leg and saw an indent and it started to swell up really fast, but in the moment I wasn’t crying because it didn’t hurt too bad,” Grundler said. “I wasn’t even paying attention to it, really; I guess because of all the adrenaline rushing in me.”
It wasn’t until later that night, when she received a text saying Stone Bridge had lost 2-1 in overtime and a stream of teammates came to visit her in the hospital, that the tears began to flow. All year, the Bulldogs had been the favorite to win the state crown, only to see their hopes and season vanish in one crushing game.
For Grundler, the result serves as even more motivation during her rehab. Still on crutches, Grundler has regained enough strength to gingerly walk on her leg thanks to three physical therapy sessions a week. And come next spring, Grundler expects to be fully prepared to serve as leader for a squad that graduated six Division I players.
“I’m still disappointed by how we lost, but I feel like we will come back next year with vengeance on our mind and treat every game like it’s the state tournament,” Grundler said. “We’ve got unfinished business and I plan to be back on the field real soon.”