URBANA – As much as Ur-bana''s Ella Masar has accomplished on the soccer field, there''s one thing she hasn''t been able to do: stay healthy.
For opponents, that''s the really scary part. The Illinois recruit scored an area-record 40 goals last season and is eight shy of breaking Katie Stephens'' school record of 86. But her career has been plagued by a painful condition in her legs, an ailment that extends back to her sophomore year.
Finally, Masar is healthy. She had surgery Feb. 20 for periostitis, a condition similar to shin splints. She played her first match Tuesday, scoring two goals in her first game in about eight months.
"Somehow, I don''t know how, 20 seconds in I get the ball and score," Masar said. "The second time I got the ball, I''m on a fast break, and I''m running and all of a sudden I just fall. Nobody around me. My legs just gave out."
OK, so her legs still are getting used to this process again. But Masar is thrilled to be back on the field.
The condition was puzzling for years and meant she couldn''t compete at her highest level for long stretches. Known for her blazing speed, Masar''s legs are her biggest weapon, but they often failed her.
"I couldn''t play more than about 30 minutes without my legs going into huge knots," she said.
Finally, after a battery of tests, Masar saw a specialist in Wisconsin and ended up having a surgery that has given her new life.
"Right now it''s absolutely perfect," she said. "I wish they''d done it a year and a half ago."
Her cardiovascular system still has to catch up, of course, but Masar''s return has given Urbana a huge lift. If she stays healthy, her accomplishments might not compare to future achievements.
"We''ve never seen her healthy," Urbana coach Randy Blackman said.
Masar said she felt good Tuesday, though her stamina was tested. She isn''t worried that she might have returned too fast, perhaps endangering a bright future.
"I''m very happy. My legs haven''t hurt at all," she said, "which is incredible for what they were going through before.
"I just hope now I can get healthy and play to what I think I can."
The hardest part might be in the rearview mirror. Sitting out is not what Masar does best. The Tigers, already beaten up with a slew of injuries, struggled without her, and she had to watch.
"I''m really glad I only missed six games," she said. "That was hard enough to watch.
"It just feels good to play healthy. I haven''t done it in so long."
You can reach Tony Bleill at (217) 351-5605 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.