Less than two years after rescuing her soccer career from a blown knee ligament, Maya Rajacich felt her future go pop again. Same ligament, different knee.
She’d come back from one severe knee injury. Could she do it again?
A natural at the game, the Minneapolis Washburn senior was one of Minnesota’s most feared attackers in prep girls’ soccer as a freshman. Her size and strength on the ball and relentless style tantalized coaches and soccer fanatics alike.
“I saw how special she was when she was a freshman,” Washburn co-coach Reuben Ndely said. “I thought she was the best player in the state.”
That offseason, however, Rajacich tore the ACL in her right knee, forcing her to miss her sophomore year. She still managed to play with the Minnesota Thunder Academy’s Elite Clubs National League team and returned to high school soccer last season, as strong as ever. She helped a talented Washburn team go undefeated before losing to Orono in the Class 1A state championship game.
A disappointing finish, sure, but she was back and playing well. Her knee was fine, her game sound. College coaches elbowed each other out of the way to get her attention.
Two days after the state tournament ended, she was playing with her club team in Milwaukee when the unthinkable happened.
“I was feeling really good,” she said. “I was dribbling the ball, and some girl hit me. I turned to keep my balance, and I felt it tear.”
Trainers at the site tried to temper her worries and gave her a hopeful diagnosis about her left knee, but Rajacich knew what had happened. She’d been through it once.
“I knew it,” she said. “The first thing I said was ‘Oh no.’ ”
The injury turned out to be worse than first one. Not only was the ACL torn, but so was the meniscus. She admitted to having doubts that she could endure another rehabilitation.
“I honestly thought I was done,” she said.
But soccer is a way of life in the Rajacich family. Her father, Jeff, still plays competitively. Her sisters play soccer. And the dream of playing in college never quite went away.
“I was about three or four months into rehab when a switch went on and I saw how much I missed it,” she said. “I knew coming back would be hard but doable.”
Barely nine months after the second injury, Rajacich is back where she belongs, patrolling the pitch as an attacking midfielder for Washburn. There’s still pain, but the knees are strong and getting stronger.
“I have to rein her in a little bit because she wants to go hard all the time,” her father said. “She’s still only about 75 percent of the way back.”
Ndely added that after Rajacich’s time on the sidelines that “she’s come back smarter than ever. She sees the game develop more.”
And for the first time in her life, she’s playing with her youngest sister, Marli, a freshman forward. They’ve clicked often this season, setting each other up. But as of Wednesday, they had yet to combine on a goal.
“We’ve had a lot of attempts at goals,” Marli said. “I know it will happen.”
The knee injuries cooled the college interest, but the University of Minnesota offered Maya a spot as a preferred walk-on with a chance to earn a scholarship. She jumped at it. Life is back to being good again.
“I feel really good about my knees, and it’s been my dream to play with my sister,” Maya said. “My teammates have been so supportive. I’m just honored and grateful to have one last chance to come back and play for Washburn.”