Maci Cotler leads the American Midwest Conference with 11 goals through six games, including four scores in back-to-back victories last week.
Hannibal-LaGrange forward Maci Cotler wasn't certain what the future held when she tweaked her back during a 6-0 win over Central Baptist College last Oct. 1.
A nagging injury reached its breaking point.
Her season was over.
“That game, I just couldn't run,” recalls Cotler, who led the Lady Trojans in goals as a freshman despite missing the last eight matches. “I felt like I was running like an old man with a walker. It wasn't working.”
In Cotler's absence, HLGU managed to score just two goals over the final month of the 2016 campaign, making a season that was already tough that much harder.
The sophomore captain lacked no motivation to return, overcoming the frustrating setback with strenuous rehab to ready herself for this season.
It's safe to say she's making her presence felt.
Cotler leads the American Midwest Conference with 11 goals through six games, including four scores in back-to-back victories last week over Lincoln Christian and Manhattan Christian, respectively. She ranks second in NAIA in scoring and third in total points.
The scoring outburst made the Naperville, Ill., native a shoe-in to be named the AMC Offensive Player of the Week.
“Coming into the season, we had Maci tagged as our primary source of goals,” first-year HLGU coach Tasha Flynn said. “We had individual meetings about our expectations of her, and that was to score goals for the team and to provide shots and get us in games. She's definitely fulfilling that role for us so far, and it's nice to have somebody who can finish those opportunities.”
Cotler mentioned she can't remember a game in her life she's ever scored more than three goals.
This was as good a time as any.
“We just needed to score,” Cotler said of her team, which started this season 0-3 but now sits at 2-4 thanks to the two blowout wins last week. “It was nice for me personally to lift the team's spirits by getting goals and having the feeling of scoring rather than getting scored on. The wins boosted up our spirits and our confidence and I think it just brought us all together a little bit more.”
Cotler credited her teammates for her own offensive success. Midfielder Nicole Paisini and forward Maria Monteiro each have dished out four assists this season, while midfielder Sarah James has a pair of helpers.
“Scoring on really good plays is the best, because we just did that as a team,” Cotler said. “That's why it was so easy to score. Our team all worked really hard to get those goals. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't be scoring them.”
Flynn mentioned Cotler's tactical awareness has been growing during the season.
“We've worked with Maci a lot on the timing of her runs and getting into the right position at the right time so she can put herself in a good goal-scoring opportunity,” the coach said.
Being sidelined much of last season gave Cotler the opportunity to view the game from a different perspective and observe little ways to improve her game going forward.
There was silver lining to the injury after all.
“It's very different seeing soccer (from the sideline) and then being in the game,” she explained. “Even sitting out for 1o or 15 minutes, you catch a lot of what you could be doing. Last year, sitting those games, it gave me a different view of the game. I took stuff that I learned last year and brought it into this year.”
After experiencing a feeling of letting her team down by not playing down the stretch last year, she is making up for lost time.
“I wanted to bring more to the team this year than I did last year because I feel like I didn't contribute much being injured,” she admitted. “I wanted to fill in the shoes of being a captain and a leader on the team, and part of that comes with being able to provide scoring goals and being there for my teammates."
She's off to a strong start doing just that.