MANHEIM – Paige Selenski’s move from the U.S. Olympic women’s field hockey active roster in 2012 to alternate status in 2016 could be viewed as a setback.
Considering how the Dallas graduate’s last year has gone, Selenski prefers to consider it a comeback.
Fearing her career could be over as she faced major surgery on a serious upper-leg injury and the subsequent strenuous rehabilitation, Selenski raced the calendar and beat the odds to return to the field prior to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, which were scheduled to start Saturday.
“I never thought I’d play again,” Selenski said. “I remember sitting in my locker thinking ‘I’m never going to play again’. It was that bad of an injury. So, I’m very happy to be going and supporting them in any way that I can.”
With her words and delivery in an interview after the team’s final preparation for Brazil, Selenski brushed aside the possible speculation of unhappiness over her status with the U.S. Women’s National Team.
An alternate travels and prepares with the team and, ideally, needs to be able to be supportive of those who are already assured of time on the field.
Potentially more important than her postgame words, Selenski showed with her play that the 26-year-old forward is ready to help the team in the unlikelihood of a player being forced out of the remainder of the Olympics tournament with an injury.
Selenski scored a goal on a deflection and created two other excellent scoring chances with her stick skills during a 5-0 shutout of Canada July 26 in the final game of the Rio Send-Off Series. And, there was no sign of having lost the speed that made her a champion sprinter in high school track and field.
“I do feel good,” Selenski said. “It took awhile, but I finally feel like myself out there.
“It feels great. I struggled through injury for a year and a half.”
Going into this year’s tournament, Selenski was the last player to score a goal for the United States in Olympic women’s field hockey.
Those Olympics were generally a team disappointment, however, as the United States finished last in the 12-team field.
Just getting back into the Olympics seemed like a challenge at the time, but the U.S. team improved steadily under new coach Craig Parnham. It arrived in Rio de Janeiro ranked fifth in the world, the highest it has ever been, by the International Hockey Federation, and a threat to medal for the first time since the Los Angeles Games in 1984.
As the team was climbing, Selenski was hanging on, playing in pain and still producing as one of the top scoring threats. A hamstring injury tested her, but Selenski remained in the lineup, helping make sure the United States clinched its Olympic berth, something that happened with a Pan American Games title last summer.
“I first injured myself in March 2015,” said Selenski, who had nuisance hamstring problems at other times in her career. “I played on it through the qualifiers and then it got worse and eventually it ended up tearing off the bone.
“It was a tendon torn off the bone. It tears from the pelvis. I tried to rehab it for three months and it never got better.”
Surgery was needed and Selenski wound up in a race against time.
“It was really (supposed to be) a 6-9-month recovery and I actually came back in five,” said Selenski, who explained that the thought of never being able to play again lingered throughout the rehab process.
Selenski had scored first-quarter goals in three straight Pan American Games outings in 2015, but as the finished her rehab with the United States getting ready for the Olympics, it was tougher getting playing time with the restricted roster sizes in tournaments.
With the Olympic roster announcement coming July 1, Selenski did not play while the United States was earning a bronze medal at the Champions Trophy, a tournament among six of the top seven teams in the world, in London in June.
One of the program’s most famous players ever, after being part of marketing efforts and appearing in the 2015 ESPN Body Issue, Selenski pledges to be the type of established star who is not a distraction. She said she is in Brazil to help, whether from the sideline or in a surprise appearance on the field.
“I’m very happy to be playing again and I’m very pleased to support my team in any way that I can,” said the four-time University of Virginia All-American. “It’s a total team effort all the time, so any way I can support them and be there for them and then, if I’m called upon, I’ll be ready to step in.”