Taylor Brisendine had the perfect idea in mind for her essay.
The Kalispell Glacier girls soccer player was tasked with writing about how something bad that happened to her ended up yielding a positive result. That presented Brisendine with the opportunity to put into words how she changed her mindset for the better after suffering an injury that derailed her junior season and left her battling the depression of missing sports.
The senior used that mindset change to her advantage in her return to the field this season, playing a pivotal role in helping the Wolfpack reach the State AA championship game for the first time in the school’s 14-year history.
“I have the mindset that I just need to live my life and not be afraid of anything, I need to enjoy living in the moment,” Brisendine said ahead of the State AA championship game 3 p.m. Thursday at Helena High.
It’s not the mindset she had before a collision with Butte’s goalkeeper in the third game last year that left with her with a torn MCL and fractured tibia in her right leg. The grade of the injury wasn’t so severe as to require surgery, but it forced her to miss the rest of the season.
Brisendine spent about nine weeks on crutches, then graduated to just one crutch. All the while, she went to physical therapy at least twice a week and had to do exercises while keeping weight off her right knee. Even the simple act of walking up or down stairs became grueling.
But Brisendine isn’t someone to back down from a challenge. That’s evident in her decision to go to Flathead Valley Community College after her school day of taking AP classes at Glacier to take a Writing 101 class, which made her look inward even more at her injury for her “I Believe” essay.
“It was a harsh recovery,” Brisendine said. “I think I went into a depressing phase at that time. I was so upset because soccer is one of the best things in my life. I was frustrated because I thought that season would be an amazing year.”
She was right. The Wolfpack made the turnaround from worst-to-first in the Western AA conference. They went from 2-9-1 in 2018 to winning the 2019 conference title, their first-ever finish better than third place.
And they made it all the way to the state semifinals — without her on-field talents. It was tough to swallow, but she found a way to make a difference, still going to practices and games to support her team.
“She was amazing. She was out there all the time,” Glacier coach Brenden Byrd said. “She’d go to rehab and then come watch us. She came out every game and was our No. 1 cheerleader. Her energy was spectacular. She was always the first one to run out on the field and congratulate players while on her crutches.”
That mindset change Brisendine started to recognize in herself led to her offering support to her teammates by giving inspirational speeches before games.
Whether those speeches helped the team succeed on the field can’t be known, but they did make an impact on her teammates, who presented her with the “most inspirational player” award at the end of the season.
“Basically, I would just say to play your heart out and play for your team but also play for yourself because you never know what your last game will be, so you need to play your hardest,” she recalled. “I said if I could be playing right now, I would be one of the happiest people ever, so don’t take it for granted.”
Brisendine hasn’t taken this fall for granted after she got healthy by winter only to have the coronavirus pandemic cancel her spring track season, preventing her from improving on her state finish of fifth in the long jump and seventh in the triple jump as a sophomore.
On the soccer field, she still carries a temporary physical sign of the injury. She wore a hefty brace on her right knee, her plant leg, while playing club soccer last spring for Flathead Valley United and has recently moved down to a less-restrictive brace.
It took some time to get used to running, kicking or trapping a ball, and overcoming the mental hurdle of not thinking too much about her right knee twisting when she plants with that leg to pass or shoot the ball. But she had a feeling after the first practice that the team would be in a for a good year.
“I said I actually need to dig deep, this is the time to play my heart out,” Brisendine recalled.
She’s done just that. Brisendine heads into the title game tied for third on the team with six goals to go with three assists.
She’s coming on strong at the right time, too, scoring three goals in the past four games to boost an attack that features Madison Becker, who’s second in goals and first in assists in the Western AA, Emily Cleveland and Reagan Brisendine, her younger sister, among others.
“She’s set the tone that she was here to make a difference for the team,” Byrd said. “She’s been amazing for us. For somebody to sit out and watch your junior year go down the drain and to come back and be this tenacious for us, she’s just really special to watch on the field.”
Brisendine wasted no time scoring in her return to the field, netting the team’s first goal of the season. It was an emotional moment, one that added to the change in her mindset because she realized she could still play the game she loves at a high level.
It was also a moment that her coach highlighted as his best memory of the year when the team shared their favorite parts of the season in their final practice Wednesday. It hit a chord with Brisendine to hear that touching sentiment heading into her final game.
“I’m honestly thankful for this injury,” Brisendine said. “Even though how hard it was, it’s made me thankful for what I’m able to do. I love this sport even more.”
No matter what happens in the championship game, she’s come to enjoy every moment no matter the result. But acing her final game like her essay would be one for the books.
“This injury has totally changed my mindset,” Brisendine said. “I think that with the encouragement from all my teammates and the encouragement towards my teammates, it’s helped propel us to this moment. I’m blessed for everything that’s happened.”
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