Elon University junior defender Mel Insley is back in action for the women’s soccer team after suffering ACL and menisicus injuries that kept her from the field. 

After being cleared at the end of spring ball, Insley has burst onto the scene this fall, starting all four matches for the Phoenix.  

“I felt good coming into the season,” Insley said. “This summer I did a lot of running. I was able to get some touches on the ball towards the end of spring, and all summer I focused on getting ready to come in and play.”  

Her injury spell began while attending Trinity High School in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania.    

“I tore my ACL my junior year of high school, so I missed my entire junior year,” Insley said. “My senior spring, I tore my meniscus, so I had a partial meniscectomy, and I was out about two and a half months with that one.” 

Newly recovered, Insley was an impact freshman for the Phoenix in 2012. She made 14 appearances, starting in 12 matches. Insley scored the winning goal on the road against Furman University in a 2-1 win and helped keep eight clean sheets playing in the heart of Elon’s defense.  

But Insley would soon find out her injury woes were not over. She had another ACL surgery in May of her freshman year after finding out the first surgery had failed.

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Having a second major operation on the same knee is always risky and often forces players to hang up their cleats. For Insley, it meant missing her entire 2013 season as a redshirt.  

Now, Insley has worked her way back and earned a captain’s role on the team.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” she said. “I feel really grateful, but I’ve had awesome coaches, teammates, staff and trainers to help me along the way and push me to get back.” 

Insley found her redshirt year and patient recovery process were crucuial for her to regain her health and fitness.  

“I think taking around 15 to 18 months to actually come back from ACL surgery definitely proved beneficial,” she said.  

Elon freshman forward Sydney Schilling said Insley provides a spark for the freshmen and the rest of the Phoenix squad.   

“To see how hard Mel has worked to get where she is and starting and to play an entire game, it gives everybody else her confidence,” Schilling said. “It’s contagious for the rest of the team.”  

According to head coach Chris Neal, Insley has the credentials to be effective to the team in more ways than one.  

“She’s got great spirit, has great competitiveness, wants to lead. She inspires others on the team to act like her on the field,” Neal said. “Her nickname is the ‘Little General,’ and she plays like it.” 

The results for the Phoenix this season have been mixed, but Insley’s form has not. Starting in her first game in two years against Jacksonville State University on opening night, Friday, Aug. 23, Insley anchored the Elon back four during her 86 minutes on the pitch and led the Phoenix to a 2-0 victory. Insley was all over Jacksonville State’s attackers and was able to clear away any dangerous passes.

“As the captain starting in the back line, it shows us what it means to be a hard-working soccer player,” Schilling said.

Insley was named Most Valuable Player of the match by Neal, but the icing on the cake was a fantastic free kick goal from 40 yards out.  

“She strikes the ball a ton,” Neal said. “I’m so happy it happened for her in the first game.”  

Insley has been taking the majority of the long free kicks for the Phoenix, supplying many dangerous chances for Elon players in the box. Insley had another opportunity to score her second goal off a direct free kick against Clemson University Aug. 29, but the Clemson goalkeeper made a save to tip the ball over the crossbar.

Provided she stays healthy, there looks to be many more opportunities like that one for Insley.

The road to recovery is a long one, especially with compounding injuries. Neal has a smile on his face seeing one of his players back on the field where she belongs. 

“For me, it’s very rewarding to see one of your players go through what she’s been through and come back on and be able to play again. And not only to play, but to play well.”

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