Kaylee Linnebur celebrated the one-year anniversary of her ACL and meniscus surgery last Thursday by helping Ozark’s soccer team run its winning streak to nine matches.
Over the weekend, Linnebur made her long-awaited return to the softball diamond by playing in a tournament in Kansas City with her travel ball team, Ozark Union.
She’s not yet ready to call her comeback complete, but is optimistic she's on the right track.
“I'm not where I was at. But I plan on getting to where I was at, if not better,” Linnebur said.
Linnebur became the second Lady Tiger to suffer an ACL tear during soccer season over a span of three seasons. Abby Ford suffered the same fate during a practice in the spring of 2020, prior to COVID shutting down the spring sports season.
The tie between Ford and Linnebur extends to softball. Ford was an all-state center fielder for Ozark in 2021, the same season Linnebur debuted as a sharp-fielding shortstop for the Lady Tigers.
Ford’s injury cost her all of her junior season in 2020, while Linnebur’s injury cost her all of her junior season in 2022.
Even with Ford having moved on to Missouri State, the bond between her and Linnebur grew, thanks to the knee injury they both were forced to deal with.
“Not that I would wish this on anyone, but it was nice having someone who had gone through it and really understood me,” Linnebur said. “It’s not just a physical battle, it’s 100 percent a mental battle, as well. To have someone walk alongside me and deeply understand what I was going through was nice.
“(Ford told me to) push myself in PT (physical therapy), and even when it hurts, just keep going,” she added. ”She said the time you put in when no one is looking matters and to do extra reps and add a little more weight when you're at therapy or doing stuff at home on your own.”
Linnebur’s injury occurred during a match with Nixa. The Christian County Cup is always a physical battle, but she actually hurt her right knee without any contact with an opponent or teammate.
“I took a step away from the ‘keeper so I wouldn't run into her. When I took that step, my knee just popped," Linnebur said. “I didn't feel any pain, but knew something was off. When I went to stand up, my knee could not support me at all. Once I was up, I was able to walk off the field. But (the knee) felt very loose.
“It was a very strange feeling,” she added. “I didn't think I had done anything. I thought I jammed it or something. The Nixa trainer told me she didn't feel an ACL in there. I didn't really believe her. But when I went to the doctor and got my MRI, sure enough it was my ACL and my meniscus.”
Linnebur admittedly was a bit apprehensive initially about playing soccer again.
"Coming into the season, I talked to (Ozark’s coaches) and told them I was a little nervous coming back from my surgery,” she said. “But soccer is something I love and I came back to it. It was worth it to me to come back to play.”
Linnebur was eager to play after sitting out last fall, as Ozark’s softball team captured the COC championship and also went on to win a District title.
“That was tough,” she said. “But I will say it was kind of a blessing in disguise. You learn a lot when you're on the sideline. I thought I had mental toughness. But this definitely gave me more mental toughness and I think it taught me to be a better teammate, as well.”
She’s hopeful to re-claim her job at shortstop, but figures to begin playing in the outfield while becoming more comfortable moving laterally.
“I plan on playing outfield to get my bearings on the field again,” said Linnebur, who hit .280 with three home runs, 13 RBIs and 23 runs scored in 2021. “I plan on getting back to short, but also trust my coach's judgement. If I'm needed elsewhere, I'll try my best there."