Take the Virginia AAA Liberty District, just an eight-school sliver of the more than 200 high schools in the Washington area. Madison’s top two scorers from last season, sophomore Kelly Koshuta and senior Megan Henshaw, tore their ACLs last summer and have not played this season. McLean’s Elena Karakozoff, Fairfax’s Kylie Murphree and Stone Bridge’s Caitlyn Canyon this season all returned from ACL injuries, or, in Murphree’s case, a torn meniscus.
The rash of ACL tears underscores the continued severity of the problem in young female athletes and also raises questions about whether the athletes and their parents and coaches are doing enough to prevent such injuries.
There are drills and exercises designed to make ACLs less susceptible to tearing and to retrain muscles to perform in a way that make tears less likely. But these programs are not widely used in area school systems. About 70 percent of ACL tears result from no contact, according to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, and many of those could be avoided with smarter training, doctors conclude.
“Clinically, there is a need for sport specific injury prevention programs at the high school level,” the American College of Sports Medicine noted in an October report that capped a six-year study of high school knee injuries at 100 randomly selected high schools.
The knowledge gap
Players who tear their ACLs tend to be ACL experts — but only after they sustain the injury and undergo surgery and a demanding six-month rehabilitation that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Otherwise, there is a general lack of awareness about the ACL, which connects the front top of the tibia to the back bottom of the femur.
“I had no idea what an ACL was,” said Madison’s Koshuta, who tore an ACL last summer while going up for a layup in an AAU game, about two weeks after teammate Henshaw tore hers at an AAU event in Chicago.
“I thought I had the strongest knees,” said Koshuta, a 6-foot-2 forward who averaged 19.5 points last year as a freshman. “I had no information on [ACLs], and then once it happened I was like, wow, so many people have had this happen to them.”
“I have never really heard, ‘Make sure your knees are okay,’ ” Henshaw said. “No one has ever told me that. It’s like arms and legs, but not knees.”
A coach could field one of the strongest girls’ teams in the area with all the players affected by ACL and similar knee injuries in the past year. Besides the Madison duo, there’s Zoe Beard-Fails, a University of Colorado signee, at Georgetown Day. Ciaira Lee and Carolyn Cosey started on Wise’s Maryland 4A runner-up team last year. Fairfax’s Murphee has eight Division I scholarship offers. Glenelg’s leading scorer, Emily Russo, tore her ACL in December. Weeks later, teammate Sam Heisig returned from an ACL injury.