Jan. 31, 2013
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Junior defender Chelsea Hunter was a key player for the 2011 Louisville women's soccer team as the Cardinals had their most successful season in school history. A starter in all 24 matches that season, Hunter led the 2011 Cards to a BIG EAST regular season championship and a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Championship. Most recently, Hunter was a team captain and started in all but one match for the 10-win Cardinals in 2012.
While being an important member of the Louisville women's soccer team on the field, Hunter is also a leader in the classroom having been named to the Athletic Director's Honor Roll in 2009 and 2010 and a BIG EAST Academic All-Star in 2010.
Hunter grew up in Novi, Mich., and picked up soccer at the age of six after her mother signed her up as a result of her brother's interest in the sport. "My brother, Blake, actually asked my mom to play and she just decided to sign me up as well," Hunter recalled. She maintains a loving and competitive relationship with her younger brother, who is currently a goalkeeper at nearby Bellarmine University.
Hunter credits her development as a young soccer player to coaching consistency, having only two coaches during her pre-collegiate career, both with her travel team the Michigan Hawks. Each coach provided insight and guidance into some of the most important aspects of her game.
"In my pre-collegiate career with the Hawks I only had two coaches, Tim Ernst (U9-U14) and Doug Landefeld (U15-U19). Each coach taught me something important about my play that helped me get to college," Hunter said. "Tim taught me all the fundaments and technical work I needed to know. For the longest time we didn't even play soccer, we would work on our touch, both left and right foot. On the other hand Doug taught me a lot about the tactics of the game. That includes the roles of a forward, midfielder, defender and game management."
Hunter, a two-sport athlete in basketball and soccer at Walled Lake Western High, chose Louisville over Marquette and entered 2009 as a true freshman making five starts and making nine appearances before her season ended unexpectedly.
Hunter battled lower back pain for years leading up to her collegiate career, but it had never affected her ability to compete until college. The rigors of being a collegiate athlete began taking a toll on her back and the pain increased as a result.
"Once I started lifting, I couldn't bare the pain anymore," she said. Hunter recalls dealing with the pain, not only during conditioning, but during games, "We were playing away at Texas and I remember I could barely walk off the field for half time."
Hunter's injury forced her to miss the remainder of her freshman year, a season which ended as a complete loss despite being injured in just the fifth game of the season.
"I missed the ability to get a redshirt because I played that half at Texas. A little disappointing at the time, but I have come to cope with it," she said. After countless trips to the doctor and countless x-rays, MRI's, bone scans and CT scans, Hunter was diagnosed with a pars defect, or more specifically a fracture of the vertebrae.
Surgery soon followed for Hunter to begin her road to recovery.
"December 17, 2009. That is the date I will never forget. Surgery day," she said. "My surgeon is the best spine surgeon in the world. After three hours, a screw, and some wire, I had officially been fixed."
Following surgery, Hunter spent six days in the hospital where she had to relearn to walk, sit down, and walk up stairs. "It was the roughest six days in the hospital," she said.
Following her hospital stay, Hunter was told recovery would take approximately three months, but in reality it took her almost a full year to finally be cleared for soccer again.
"Three months rolled around and I was nowhere near being cleared. Finally, after eight more months, I was cleared to start soccer again," she said.
Though she was able to play soccer again, Hunter was not ready in time to compete and was forced to miss the entire 2010 season. Though unable to compete, Hunter was still having an impact in soccer by providing contacts that led her brother Blake to Bellarmine.
"While I was recuperating from surgery, my brother was in his search for a collegiate career," said Hunter. "I happened to know the best friend of the assistant coach at Bellarmine University. I happened to mention that I had a brother interested in playing soccer and that he should watch him at this particular tournament. In the end, Blake chose to attend Bellarmine, which definitely was the right choice for him."
Blake's decision wasn't just the right one for him, but it was the right one for Chelsea. Having her brother in the same city has provided the same support system and relationship they always had when they were growing up in Michigan.
"Having him attend a college so close to me is amazing because we have just gotten that much closer," Hunter explained. "I get to see some of his games and he makes it out to mine. We have our own little support system within the city of Louisville."
The following fall and spring would prove challenging for Hunter as she had to recondition her body after months of rehab and recovery.
"Spring of 2011 was the hardest season I have endured. Getting back into shape after a year of doing nothing was a struggle mentally and physically," she said.
Though painful, challenging, and stressful, Hunter credits her struggle with providing the insight, perspective, and toughness that makes her the player she is today.
"I owe where I am now because of that spring," said Hunter. "I wouldn't be as mentally strong as I am today if I didn't absolutely struggle through lifts and conditions (especially cones). Being a mentally tough person is one of our overall themes."
Hunter's journey to get back to soccer has proven to be successful and beneficial for her and the Cardinals. She has been named a team captain again for next season and continues to credit her injury for providing her the mental toughness to compete and lead.
"It was an honor to be named captain and a relief because I was working really hard to get it," she said. "I have learned a lot about being a team captain and a leader. One important piece I learned is that you need to set a good example and do all the small things because they eventually lead to successful big things."
Studying towards a degree in sport administration, Hunter hopes to take what she has learned as a player and continue her soccer career as a coach once those playing days have ended.