An athlete’s senior year in their sport is meant to be a special one, a last hurrah before graduation and moving on to the next chapter in their life.
Ashely Bull’s senior season was definitely memorable, just not for the reasons she expected.
It was less than a year ago when Bull, stepped onto the field with the Canisius College Golden Griffins women’s field lacrosse team for their season-opening game against the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
A captain since her junior season, the 22-year-old from Langley, was expected to again be a key cog for the Griffins, having never missed a game in her first three seasons for the private Buffalo university.
All of that changed two minutes into the game.
It happened quickly as Bull made a cut to dart past a defender, planting her left leg into the artificial turf field.
While Bull’s body twisted one way, her knee remained firmly planted.
“I have never been in that much pain in that quick amount of time. I couldn’t really move it and I knew something was probably wrong,” Bull said.
With the help of trainers, Bull was taken off the field, watching the rest of the game from the sidelines.
Soon the sobering reality hit Bull, that she would not be re-entering the game.
“I was hoping (I could play again that season) but I just had a feeling,” she remembered.
Bull was fitted with a brace for the six-hour bus ride back to Buffalo from Ann Arbor.
There were no tears, just shock as Bull’s mind was a blur, hoping for the best, but deep down knowing she had likely suffered some serious damage.
An MRI a few days later revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL) and meniscus in her left knee and it marked the end of Bull’s senior season before it really even began.
Less than a year later, Bull took the field as part of the Canadian senior women’s national team program, one step away from representing her country.
Ultimately, she didn’t make the final cut as the roster was trimmed from 25 to 18 for this summer’s 2017 FIL women’s lacrosse World Cup in England and the 2017 World Games in Poland.
This would have been Bull’s second time wearing the Maple Leaf as she previously made Canada’s U19 team as a 16-year-old.
But while disappointed, Bull also knows she was only nine months post-surgery so she said she was proud of how far she had come.
After all, Bull could have very easily walked away from the sport. But with the lure of lacrosse — and not wanting to go out like that — Bull was determined for a comeback.
She graduated on time last May with her bachelor of science in health and wellness.
Because the injury happened so early in the season, Bull was granted a redshirt year, meaning she could come back and play in her fifth year.
Already done her degree, she is now doing a masters in sports administration.
Bull attended games and practices when she could and followed some of their games online.
“It felt weird not being there because I had been through everything with this team, whether it was fall ball to all the conditioning, the testing, it is just blood, sweat and tears in the fall.
“You go through all that, you get excited before the season and then (this happens),” she said.
There was no doubt in her mind that she wasn’t coming back, but her concern was what sort of player would she be.
“It was not that I wasn’t going to come back, it was more that I wasn’t going to be at my calibre or be a different player than before. It was more of just concern of how well I was going to come back,” she explained.
The surgery was performed in April and she spent the next couple of months rehabbing in Buffalo.
She credits head coach Scott Teeter and the team’s trainer, Andy Smith, for helping get through the difficult time.
Bull worked daily with Smith, strengthening her leg and quad muscle ahead of the surgery.
When Bull had doubts, Smith would coax her through the exercises.
Even when she returned home to B.C. — the family has since relocated from Walnut Grove to Chilliwack — Teeter and Smith would check in on her via text.
The first Canadian camp was held in August, but Bull was given a pass.
The extra time allowed her to continue strengthening her knee and getting some much-needed practice time with her school team.
“I was nervous. The first time back on the field, I took shuttles very slow.
“I would jog rather than sprint,” Bull said.
“All you need is that one moment when you do something that you don’t think you can and then you do and you feel fine.”
Buoyed by that confidence, Bull attended the second Canadian camp in late October, and survived the roster cutdown from 41 to 25.
Teeter, Bull’s college coach is also the Canadian coach, and he liked what he saw once Bull was cleared and ready to go a few months back.
“I got to see the old Ashley again,” he said.
“And it’s no surprise. She is a competitor, a true athlete and obviously true athletes don’t like to be injured and they work their tail off to get back on the field.”
Teeter called Bull the ‘heart and soul’ of the Golden Griffins team.
“Phenomenal: that is probably the one word to paraphrase Ashley.
“She has been wonderful for our program,” he said.