And she didn’t even play a full minute.
After tearing her ACL on Sept. 28 against N.C. State, senior co-captain Brooke Elby was named an honorary starter for the No. 5 North Carolina women’s soccer team’s 3-0 win over Miami, kicking off to start the game and subbing out moments later.
“I’ve never been so excited to be able to stand out there with girls I absolutely love,” Elby said. “Ending my last game side-by-side with all of them, it’s just one of those special moments, and I can’t even describe it in words.”
The coaches had been discussing the idea for weeks, deciding to start Elby in what would be the final home game of her collegiate career.
“When the coaches told me I could do it, I was crying,” Elby said. “It was one of the most special moments of my college career.”
Elby wasn’t the only emotional one upon learning of the honorary tribute.
“In the locker room before, we all found out that she was starting,” freshman Megan Buckingham said. “Chills were going through our team, we were so happy for her. It’s the perfect way to end her regular season.”
Elby had been enjoying a breakout regular season at the time of her injury. Despite much of the attention going to the accolades of underclassmen and strong bench performances, she had established herself as a crucial member for the Tar Heels (11-2-2, 8-0-1 ACC).
With the roster facing the loss of many starters to graduation and injuries, Elby stepped up and assumed a regular position in the starting lineup for the first time in her career.
“She’s a kid that really killed herself every year to contribute to her team and didn’t really until this year,” Coach Anson Dorrance said. “And then as a starter for me, she was one of my best players. For her to evolve to that level as a player, we wanted her to finish up with a start in our final home game.”
The token of respect might not have been possible if not for Miami’s sportsmanship.
“I thought that was a very noble gesture on Miami’s part to let us do that for just a wonderful, wonderful kid,” Dorrance said.
Dorrance was grateful for the opportunity to honor Elby, who has had a great impact on her teammates and coaches.
“Brooke has really done an amazing job here, growing as a human being, growing as a leader for me and then just having an incredible senior year,” he said. “To have it end with that tragedy, we didn’t want that to be the end.”