By Matt Levins
The Hawk Eye
Grit and determination.
Those are the two words both Notre Dame-West Burlington/Danville girls soccer coach Todd Ackerman and Notre Dame High School athletics director Jackson Culp used to describe Notre Dame senior soccer defender Kaitlyn Lalonde.
In the final minutes of the final match of the 2021 season, Lalonde tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee.
Through pure grit and determination, Lalonde made it back from the injury in just six months.
Lalonde is back playing for the Nikes this year, helping them to a 4-2 start.
Lalonde played her best match of the season thus far on Thursday night, getting one assist and controlling things on the back end in an 8-0 win over Mediapolis.
Earlier Thursday, Lalonde signed to play soccer next season for Luther College, an NCAA Division III school in Decorah.
For Lalonde, it was a whirlwind six hours in her road back from the devastating knee injury.
“My decision was made because of the community at Luther and the team," Lalonde said. "The soccer coach (Hollie Gray III) was a big part of it, as well. He was really supportive of everything that I have been saying. He coaches the way I want to be coached.”
For Lalonde, the last four years have been a growing and learning process. She started as a freshman, helping the Nikes to a 15-3 record and a berth in the Class 1A state tournament. Her sophomore season was wiped out by COVID-19 and then came the knee injury in a 2-0 loss to Iowa City Liberty in regionals last year,
Lalonde wasn't about to let that slow her down or stop her from achieving her dream of playing college soccer.
"A girl ran into me as I was reaching out for the ball and my knee hyperextended and I blew my ACL," Lalonde said. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought. I’ve had many people around me tear their ACL, especially in our class. My brother (Caleb) has gone through it several times. I just knew that I could get through it. I kept a positive attitude and I got back quicker than I’ve ever seen anybody get back.”
Lalonde, wearing a brace on her right knee, is getting back to the form she displayed last season before the injury.
“Kaitlyn, from the day she got here, she started as a freshman and worked hard. She is a great example for other girls coming through the program. She just works hard," Ackerman said. "For her to come back from her injury in the last game of the season and be ready to go for the start of this season — from Day 1 she’s been playing — it’s been fantastic. She may not have started out as strong as she wanted to, but she just continues to build. You can see the sense of pride and determination in her. It’s been great.”
Lalonde has learned the finer points of the game from Ackerman in the Notre Dame-West Burlington/Danville program. Those skills have prepared her to compete at the NCAA Division III level.
“I have learned to play as a team. Everyone, every single part of the team, is important. Even the people that don’t start every game," Lalonde said. “(ND-WB/Danville goalkeeper Ava Rashid) helps me a lot. I learned how to plan defense when Elani Mears was our goalie. She really helped us talk and achieve eighth place at state. Now Ava has stepped up and taken a really big role. She’s been great.”
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Lalonde, who plans to major in biology with the objective to find a career either as a respiratory therapist of a high school science teacher, will join a Luther team which went 9-10 last season, including 4-4 in the American Rivers Conference. The Norse graduate three senior defenders this season.
While Lalonde has been a defender for the Nikes, she is willing to play anywhere on the field to help Luther succeed.
“I like playing defense because it helps prevent goes and defense wins championships. That’s what I believe," Lalonde said. “I think anywhere that I’m put I can do my best, no matter where I am. I’m a military brat and whoever I am I always try to do my best.”
Matt Levins is a sports reporter for the USA TODAY Network in Burlington, Iowa, who has covered local sports for 31 years. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.