Forest Park senior Vanessa Kovar almost didn’t play this season after seeing a college-bound teammate go down with an ACL last spring (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post).

Reaching the Virginia AAA Northwest Region girls’ soccer semifinals is nothing new for Forest Park‘s girls’ soccer team. But for all the past success and out of all of their 16 wins this spring, Monday’s 2-0 victory against Broad Run likely came with a greater sense of gratitude.

Not only had the Bruins avenged a last-minute loss to Broad Run in the previous year’s region tournament, both goals were scored by Vanessa Kovar, a forward who just a few months earlier had nearly elected to sit out her senior season.

Having seen their shot at an unbeaten campaign and state title ended prematurely, all 19 of the returning Bruins entered the offseason raging with disappointment and frustration. But a sense of fear also gnawed at Kovar. Burned into her mind was the image of Madison Black writhing on the ground in pain after tearing her ACL during a contest against Hylton. The injury would eventually sideline Black for her freshman campaign at Towson.

“I didn’t want that to happen to me,” recalled Kovar, who is signed to play at South Carolina. “I didn’t want to get hurt and risk what I had in my future at USC, so I decided to set aside high school soccer and focus on on making sure I’m fit and ready for college.”

Having coached Kovar since middle school, Bruins Coach Mark Malloy knew the talent he would be losing. Kovar’s gifted footwork and high motor had yielded 17 goals and 16 assists during her junior season. But he also understood that Kovar, along with Penn State recruit and equally-uneasy senior Maggie Chapman, had to think about their future.

“That injury scared the girls who were going to play in college,” Malloy said. “Vanessa was a little concerned, and I told her I would support her in any decision she made.”

Up until a week before varsity tryouts in February, Kovar’s decision was to sit out her senior season, minimizing the chance of a freak injury compromising her soccer dreams. But the more she saw her friends prepping for another run at the state title, what had become a rite of spring for a three-year varsity player like Kovar became too much to pass up.

“I just said, ‘You know what? I don’t want to give up my senior year,'” Kovar said. “It was hard to say no because I had played for three years. Once I told Coach Malloy, he was really happy and so was I.”

Although Forest Park’s season again ended in Wednesday’s region semifinals, this time with a 4-2 loss to Colonial Forge, Kovar has no regrets from her change of heart. The forward finished with 18 goals and 16 assists, earning Cardinal District Player of the Year honors.

“From the moment I got out there for our first game, I knew I made the right decision, and I realized that I can’t go into any game worrying if I will get hurt,” Kovar said earlier this week. “I know some girls choose to sit out just in case, and I can understand that. Maggie decided to do that and I know it’s not an easy decision. I think you have to take it case by case, but for me, I’m really happy that I played.”