On Friday, the Notre Dame women’s soccer will play in the NCAA Final 4 for the 3rd time in 4 years.
The seniors are looking for their 2nd National championship of their careers.
The first came when they were freshmen.
There was one frosh that year that could only watch as her teammates played.
That was local star Susan Pinnick.
As a senior in high school, Pinnick led South Bend St. Joe to the state finals.
She was also recognized as the very best in her sport in the state, being named Miss Indiana High School Soccer.
Pinnick was ready to make the transition from high school to college in the summer of 2004.
But on June 12, everything changed while she was in Colorado with her club soccer team.
On their way to go White Water rafting, the team’s van had a horrific crash. Pinnick was the last of 18 people pulled out of the destroyed vehicle.
She suffered a C1 Vertebrae break in her neck, the same break that plagued Christopher Reeve.
She also had nerve damage in her arm.
Her family immediately flew out to be with her.
When she returned home, a number of get well gifts were waiting for her from classmates and friends.
Just two weeks after the crash, Pinnick was showing how strong she is. She was already declaring she would make a full recovery and a return to soccer.
There were bumps along the way. Pinnick suffered an infection in her skull that swelled into her brain just 6 weeks after the accident.
But she persevered.
While soccer wasn’t an option that fall, attending school still was. So Pinnick headed off to Notre Dame.
While she couldn’t play, she was still a member of the team. She was there when the Irish won the National Championship.
The following spring, Pinnick was amazingly back on the soccer field.
In August of 2005, 14 months after the accident, her official career as a member of the Fighting Irish began.
Pinnick would score 7 goals in that sophomore season, including two game winners.
Now Susan is a senior.
She continues to come off the bench due to the tremendous amount of talent the Irish have at attack with Kerri Hanks, Brittany Bock and Michele Weissenhofer.
Her coach, Randy Waldrum, believes Pinnick would be a starter on almost any other team in the country.
Coming off the bench hasn’t affected her work ethic, perhaps due to the accident. Susan says the crash put life in perspective.
“You just never realize how quickly something can be taken away from you,” Pinnick explained this week. “We are just are just all so grateful—my club teammates and I—that we were even able to survive that.”
“You really look at the bigger picture of life and don’t worry about the small things. You look at what matters.”
Because of the way she battled, may of her teammates admire her greatly.
“She’s got incredible strength, incredible character,” fellow senior Amanda Cinalli explains.
“She’s just so vital to this team. Every time she steps on the field, she’s trying to make an impact and she does make an impact.”
“We just love her to death and she’s irreplaceable.”
Susan will pursue her masters next year at Notre Dame. She has one year of eligibility left, but has not decided whether she will play soccer next season or not.
She says she will wait a few weeks before making her decision. Her coach certainly hopes she returns to the team.
“I would love to see her come back next year,” Waldrum said with a big smile on her face.
“I don’t know which way she’s leaning right now, but gosh I would love to see her come back next fall.”
Right now, Pinnick’s focus is being on the field as a player for a national championship.
She watched her teammates play and win the national title that freshman season.
Last year, she played in the finals, but lost to North Carolina.
Now she and the Irish are hoping to put it all together.
Notre Dame faces Florida State in the College Cup Semifinals Friday at 5pm in College State, Texas.
The winner advances to Sunday’s National Championship.