Elk River girls’ soccer coach Brian Steuter and assistant coach Ryan Servaty talked to players after a scrimmage last week about the “dark places” a team must overcome.

Adversity, they said, comes in many forms: Heat, tired legs, falling behind on the scoreboard, and injury. The last one resonated with junior forward Shayne Schoenfelder, who returns to the varsity pitch after a knee injury wiped out her sophomore season. Faced with dark places, Schoenfelder kept the faith and emerged a stronger woman.

“Being out for six months has made me mature a little and realize you can’t take things for granted,” Schoenfelder said. “That has helped me grow mentally stronger.”

Schoenfelder helped Elk River reach the state tournament as an eighth-grader and scored 11 goals as a freshman. Without her last fall, the Elks tumbled to a 4-13-1 record. The desire for a comeback season fuels Schoenfelder and her teammates.

“Now that I’m an upperclassman, I think it’s a little more serious for me,” she said. “I think I can help this team more now, keep them together and change the culture a little bit.

“Patience will be key,” she said. “We’re trying to get 1 percent better every day.”

Schoenfelder embodied that approach the past 12 months. Everything changed last August while Schoenfelder played with her Minnesota Thunder Academy club team at a tournament in Chicago. She dribbled the ball with three opposing players in hot pursuit. As she leaned and pivoted, she felt her left knee give out.

The trainer predicted a micro-tear of the ACL. A later MRI confirmed a completely torn ligament.

Initially shocked, Schoenfelder developed mental strength and focused on her recovery, which doctors predicted would take eight to 12 months. She came back in six months and resumed practicing in February.

On a recent visit to her surgeon, Schoenfelder said, she received assurance that “the graph was 100 percent and he has no worries about me tearing it again.”

Now she must convince herself.

“I definitely still have a confidence issue,” Schoenfelder said. “It’s kind of freaky sometimes when you pivot a little wrong and you just feel something.”

As she builds her fitness level closer to 100 percent, Schoenfelder is taking precautions such as resting after hard practice days and icing her surgically repaired knee. Those minor challenges have not swayed Steuter’s view that Schoenfelder is an improved player and leader.

“You can see the maturity,” Steuter said. “She no longer just blends in. Her work rate and intensity are up. She wants to be more involved.”

Steuter looks forward to Schoenfelder’s influence in games.

“She will allow us to stretch the field,” he said. “She is strong enough to take people on, and for our other kids, she’ll allow them to have more time on the ball as well.”

Eager to apply what she’s experienced, Schoenfelder said she now understands “there are going to be rough times but you have to stay positive.”

She is sharing that message with teammates, including Alaina, her younger sister and a varsity newcomer.

“I tell them to be positive on the field,” she said. “I remind them we are going to make some mistakes and it’s going to be OK.”