After helping lead the North Carolina women's soccer team to three straight national title games, Laurie Schwoy received all of the accolades a player of her stature deserves.
But Schwoy, a three-time All-American, a finalist in 1997 for the Hermann Trophy and the 12th-leading scorer in the storied Tar Heel history, sat out the 1999 season due to surgeries on both hamstrings.
Friday, Schwoy made her long-anticipated return to Fetzer Field in an ACC contest with archrival Duke, and none of her awards, superlatives or national titles held as much importance as they once did.
"It's got to be the greatest moment of my soccer career," she said. "I feel like I'm alive."
Schwoy entered Friday's 6-1 win against Duke as a substitute in the 73rd minute. Not only was the crowd on its feet, but also the entire Tar Heel team gave Schwoy a warm ovation
"I just stood there and clapped; I wasn't even worried about the field," said sophomore forward Kim Patrick, who was on the field when Schwoy entered. "The emotion that ran through me was unreal. I just wanted to start running the whole time she was on there."
Schwoy said that her legs started feeling good enough to play on only toward the end of last week. Known for her aggressive playing style, she harnessed some of her trademark tenacity to get UNC coach Anson Dorrance to OK her return to the playing field.
"I kind of coerced the trainers into coercing Anson to let me run around for five minutes," she said. "He was kind of reluctant, but I talked him into it."
It sounds like he made the right decision.
"I was actually tearing up on the sideline watching her play," Dorrance said. "I was so excited for her; the whole team was excited for her. That was a thrill."
The return of Schwoy to the Tar Heel midfield can only improve an offense that has scored 60 goals in 12 games.
Schwoy, a senior, has made her living at the attacking midfield spot as the quarterback of the Tar Heel attack. It's her job to keep possession, distribute the ball to the UNC front-runners and join the attack from the center of the field.
And not many do it better than Schwoy does.
"If she were healthy at the beginning of the season, she would have been our national player of the year candidate, Dorrance said. "She brings something to the game that very few players can.
"She's got a skill level that just isn't seen in women's soccer. I'm not talking about at the collegiate level -- I'm talking about women's soccer."
Schwoy played only 12 minutes Friday before leaving the field. Her injuries won't allow her to play a full 90 minutes this season, but any amount of playing time is just fine with her.
"It's the best feeling in two years. I felt like a zombie: My body was moving around, but everything was dead," she said. "(Friday), it all came back to life.
"I connected with the team on a level I haven't connected with them in two years because I was on the field with them, battling with them. What a great feeling."
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