RADNOR >> A year ago, Julianne Puckette stood on the sidelines, watching, conflicted.
She shared in the joy of her Radnor teammates’ surprise run to a District 1 title, in their journey to a PIAA final. But a glance down at the large brace on her left knee indicated to the junior that those accomplishments weren’t hers, thanks to the torn ACL suffered April 8 against Abington that abbreviated her season.
The second ACL tear of Puckette’s high school career, one in each knee, cast doubt on her lacrosse future. And it tinged the elation surrounding her with a personal distance that was difficult to bridge.
“The physical part I could deal with, but the mental part was hard, especially with my team going to districts and states,” Puckette said Thursday. “That was really, really hard for me to understand that they’re going without me but still try to be a part of the team as much as I can.”
A year on, Radnor has attained the same position, playing for the PIAA Class 2A title Saturday morning against Kennard-Dale (West Chester East, 10). But there’s no ambiguity regarding Puckette’s role: The senior has been a driving force in a remarkable repeat.
The reason, as much as her dogged determination to recover and ability to shed the fear of playing on two surgically repaired knees, is a lesson Puckette picked up as a spectator: Her best day on the sidelines was worse than the worst day of running and drills coach Brooke Fritz could concoct on the field.
“I think definitely just having a perspective of the whole game because when you’re out here on the field and you’re running sprints, all you want to do is stop running,” Puckette said. “But when you’re off the field and you see everyone playing, you have such a better perspective and you’re like, ‘I want to be out there.’ Even if you’re sweating your butt off and even if it’s the worst day of practice ever, I want to be out there. So now that I’m back, I feel like I can literally do whatever, and even if I’m sweating so much and working so hard, I don’t care.
“I’m playing and I’m happy.”
The Lehigh commit is making up for lost time in a hurry. She understood what it would take to rehab a ligament tear after her right ACL went in her freshman season. That effort occupied much of her sophomore year, but she had returned full-bore as a junior, playing soccer in the fall and basketball in the winter. That is until one bad pivot against Abington left her blindsided and back at square one.
Braced for the physical and psychological rigors of the comeback ordeal, Puckette needed eight months to get healthy. She rehabbed with trainers at Aspiring Champions in King of Prussia and resumed play during the basketball season.
By the start of lacrosse preseason, she considered her recovery completed.
“Julianne is really resilient, and I know that sitting on the sideline the last couple of seasons has just been really hard on her because all she wants to do is be on the field,” said midfielder Allison Lanzone, a teammate of Puckette’s in all three sports. “You can just see it in her eyes. And I think that this season, she set her goal of coming out and showing what she had to prove and showing everything that she could do that she wasn’t able to do (before).
“I think every time she steps on the field, she has that mindset where she wants to win, she wants to be the best she can be. And she’s just incredibly strong and resilient to bounce back from an injury and be so confident.”
“I think this year, I just came out without fear and I think my recovery kind of set me up,” Puckette said. “I’ve been better than ever.”
The numbers bear that out. Puckette leads Radnor with 87 goals to go with 11 assists. She’s found a different gear in the postseason, notching 28 goals in seven districts and states games. Radnor (18-7) has allowed just 29 goals in that span, claiming the District 1 Class 2A title.
Kennard-Dale (21-2-1) is something of an unknown for the Raiders. The District 3 runner-up, which avenged its district finals loss with a 15-7 victory over Susquehannock in the semifinal, is the first team outside of Southeastern Pa. to play for a PIAA title, thanks to the sport’s class expansion and bracket geometry. The Rams haven’t played a District 1 team this year, and it’s with no disrespect that Radnor is positioned as a heavy favorite, not the least of which for the Raiders’ average margin of victory of 9.6 goals in seven postseason contests.
But those expectations didn’t prevent Bishop Shanahan, which Radnor had trounced 12-6 in the district final, from playing the Raiders to within a nail-biting 4-3 decision in the state semis. That’s a pertinent reminder of how uncomfortable any complacency can make a game. And with the sting of a PIAA final defeat fresh in the Raiders’ minds after last year’s drubbing meted out by Conestoga on the East turf, motivation for a swift resolution of Saturday’s final bounds.
“We want revenge from last year from losing at states,” Lanzone said. “I think last game was a wake-up call because (Shanahan) was good and we knew that. But I think it’s one thing to know that and one thing to follow through and have so many games in a row where you’re really clicking and you’re really on. So I think last game was a little bit of a wakeup call, and hopefully we can use that and channel it so we can win on Saturday.”
Puckette has clinically capitalized on opportunities for glory that she missed last year. And with the chance to pen a storybook ending, she won’t need any reminder to bring it from the opening whistle.
“I don’t know what (Kennard-Dale) is like yet, but they’re definitely going to be a hard competitor,” she said. “I know they’re from a different district, but I’m just excited to get out there and come out hard.”