After suffering a season-ending ACL injury during his senior season, red shirt senior attackman Andrew Pettit is preparing for his long-anticipated return to the lacrosse field during his fifth year at Lehigh.
Pettit tore his ACL during a practice before he was able to play in a single game. Senior midfielder Conor Gaffney said he never experienced such a petrifying moment. He said the entire roster stopped in its tracks, waiting to see what happened to its leading scorer.
“I’ve never seen a practice freeze and hold their breath,” Gaffney said. “It was a shock to all of us.”
Pettit’s injury happened when he attempted to make a cut toward the crease, something he has done thousands of times before. But this time, he said, something was off.
Pettit said he felt his knee pop and immediately knew it wasn’t normal. After waiting a week for the official diagnosis of the MRI, he was given the news.
“It’s obviously the worst news you could possibly get as an athlete,” Pettit said.
Pettit scored 88 goals in his first three seasons at Lehigh. As a junior, he led the team in goals (46) and points (66), fourth and ninth in school history, respectively. He was also No.1 in the Patriot League in goals scored, and was ranked 10th nationally with an average of 2.71 goals per game. Following a career-high five goals in a game against Army, Pettit was named to the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Division I Team of the Week (USILA), an honor given to only 10 players in the nation.
Given Pettit’s historical success and strong presence on the field, senior midfielder Andrew Eichelberger said his absence was felt roster-wide. The Mountain Hawks had to adapt to a new dynamic that lacked one of its most important elements.
“It was tough for us,” Eichelberger said. “He’s been such an impact player since he’s been here.”
When he’s not in class, Pettit said he spends most of his time in the trainer’s office taking every possible measure to restore his knee. He said his rehabilitation experience has afforded him a different perspective on being an athlete.
“It’s been absurdly humbling,” Pettit said. “You go from being a high-level athlete doing amazing things to learning how to walk again.”
Pettit added that he’s developed an unusual pride for being able to do things he once took for granted. Reintroducing his body to jogging and running — which was once a routine task — is now something he is proud of. Pettit believes he’s learned a lot about himself during the process, and said he hopes to grow from the adversity.
Pettit’s teammates admire his rehabilitation efforts and the way he has handled the process. Gaffney said Pettit’s commitment to returning to the field hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“The amount of time he spends rehabbing during the day, and also finds the time to come lift with us and come to every practice — even though he can’t actually practice — people notice it,” Gaffney said.
Pettit said he hopes to reach the same, or an even higher, level of play as the one he maintained before his injury.
Although a fifth-year at Lehigh, Pettit is considered a red shirt senior by the NCAA because his injury prevented him from playing in any games last season. He said he hopes to use his experience to win a Patriot League Championship, but his main focus is team building and establishing a healthy culture.
“The main goal is to use my experience to help the other guys on the team,” Pettit said. “I’d really like people to remember me as a team guy, someone who really cares about the team success above all.”
Pettit said standing on the sidelines while his teammates lost in the Patriot League Championship against Army last season (11-7) was one of the toughest experiences he has had. Despite the final score, he said he was proud of the team and grateful to have been able to witness his teammates give everything they had on the field.
Pettit said immediately after he suffered his injury he wasn’t sure he would return to Lehigh for a final season. It was witnessing his teammates’ effort and passion throughout the tournament, he said, that shifted his decision.
“It really made me realize how much I love the game and how much I love being out there,” Pettit said.
Pettit will continue his rehabilitation in preparation for his last season as a Mountain Hawk and last run for a Patriot League Championship.