By Corbin McGuire
Bailey Nemechek was a freshman in high school in 2015 when she verbally committed to K-State soccer. From there, every day was a chance to prepare herself. She took each one seriously.
Nemechek arrived in Manhattan in the summer of 2018 and that long-term focus was paying off. She was a force at practice. The midfielder looked to be an impact freshman for the program.
The Fort Collins, Colorado native played 22 minutes off the bench in K-State’s final exhibition against Minnesota last season. Her time on the field was cut short, however, right after she stole the ball and took a big touch out.
“I was running to it and this girl hit me from behind and I stepped, and it buckled,” Nemechek recalled at K-State’s media day last week. “I knew I’d tore it.”
A torn ACL ruined the start of what Nemechek had been looking forward to since before she could legally drive a car. Understandably, she remembered being “so upset” lying on the ground that day.
“I was so ready for this to be my time to shine, and I felt like it was all taken away from me,” she said, “but I know that nothing comes easy and hard work is a virtue you have to keep going to get to where I am.”
About a year after the injury, Nemechek said she’s at a better place than before it. Her knee is recovered. Her appreciation for the sport strengthened as well.
“I’ve learned that there’s so much hard work into everything, and soccer isn’t given. It showed me, literally, I should never take this sport for granted,” Nemechek, who redshirted last season, said. “It was my escape, and I learned that there’s so much more to soccer than just soccer. It’s literally my escape, my place to have fun, my place to be with friends, build great relationships and build myself as a person. It’s really taught me so much.”
The lessons, of course, were not always fun nor easy.
Nemechek said the first three months were “definitely the hardest.” She went to rehabilitation sessions every day for two to three hours. She retrained her leg to get the extension and flexion she needs. Once the knee brace came off at about four months, it was time to walk again without crutches.
“As soon as you’re past those months, it’s really just getting back into it, getting touches on the ball,” she said, adding: “But you just have to get past those three months.”
Within those three months was a three-letter acronym Nemechek will not miss one bit: The BFR. It stands for Blood Flow Restriction, a somewhat new training and rehabilitation method that restricts a certain type of blood flow from a working muscle.
“It’s this machine that’s wrapped around your leg and it cuts off your circulation, basically, and you have to do a certain amount of exercises on it, and as soon as it’s released it sends nutrients to your muscles to make it progress,” Nemechek explained. “So, your muscles get stronger in a shorter period of time.
“The BFR is something crazy. You just have to literally push yourself harder than you’ve ever pushed yourself.”
That push led her from milestone to milestone. Crutches to walking. Walking to jogging. Jogging to cutting. Cutting to sprinting to one day this offseason, when she asked assistant coach Gabe Romo to train with her.
“I literally, was, like, ‘I’m back! I can do this. This is something I can overcome. I’m going to become the player I know I can be,'” she recalled, reflecting on how the injury shaped her. “There are a lot of obstacles you have to go through, and I don’t think anything’s just given. I think everything’s earned. If I want to start, then I have to earn that. I can’t expect to be given it. I’m willing to do everything I can for the team.”
K-State head coach Mike Dibbini said Nemechek can do a lot for this year’s group, which will play at Oral Roberts on Saturday for its first exhibition of the season.
“She’s a playmaker,” he said. “At this level, you need playmakers, and she sees the game and manages the game very well for us, and in important times. If we are up or down, she understands the game. She is our quarterback, so we missed her extremely (last year) and are happy to have her back this year. She is going to have to work her way into it, but she will definitely have minutes.
“I can see her finding her groove. She is itching to play. She has a lot of fire built up.”
Nemechek said that fire will be met with emotion when she steps back on the field for the first time in a live environment.
“I will cry the first time I step on the field,” she said. “I’m so, so excited. I can’t express it enough. I feel like I’m ready to take on this season with my best friends and my family.”
Source: Kansas State Sports