Sehome's Diehl overcomes injury-plagued career

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 16, 2014 

15 Sehome Squalicum BSOC

Sehome's Sam Diehl, left, heads the ball as he pushes off Squalicum's Christian Chala as Sehome took on Squalicum in boys' soccer at Civic Stadium on Thursday, March 14, 2013 in Bellingham.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

The sound of Sam Diehl's ankle cracking was unmistakable.

He had elevated for a header in a pivotal Northwest Conference game against rival Bellingham on April 11, landing awkwardly on his left leg and fracturing the ankle.

It was the second time in less than two years the then-junior defenseman and captain of the Mariners' soccer team suffered a break in that very ankle. After returning from the first one, he sat on the turf at Civic Stadium wondering if he would be afforded that same luxury for a second time.

"I thought from there on out my soccer career was over," Diehl said in a phone interview. "I had been through it the year before, and I knew what I was going to go through. It's a day-by-day process.

"Every day for me, it was a stepping-stone process. It was destiny. ... I like to take on challenges. 'Let's do it again.'"

Having weathered the initial break before the onset of his sophomore season, Diehl was familiar with the road that lay ahead. And as Sehome's soccer season is set to begin Monday, March 17, at Lynden, it will do so with its senior captain operating the center back position after overcoming said road.

Sehome coach John Sylvester remembers the pain of seeing Diehl re-injure himself after fighting so hard to return. Yes, he was a pivotal piece to helping Sehome accomplish all that it set out to do, but in that moment, Sylvester said, soccer was far from his concerns.

"I just thought how unfair it was for someone who cares that much (to be) put in a position like that," Sylvester said in a phone interview. "It was terrible. ... (You) got to admire somebody that cares that much about the team that has that kind of hard luck."

For the final three weeks of the season, Diehl watched from the sidelines as the Mariners finished sixth among the 2A schools in the NWC - the top four advanced to districts.

There wasn't a game he missed despite the struggle of watching. And instead of reveling in self-pity after being struck with a second devastating ankle injury that jeopardized his future playing soccer, he embraced his role as captain, albeit in a different sense than before.

On the field, he's the voice that leads the defense, Sylvester said. It's his ship to command. For those final three weeks, Diehl said he took that opportunity to act as a coach of sorts, analyzing the game from a different vantage point and relaying what he saw to his teammates.

"I would pace up and down on the sidelines on crutches," Diehl said. "I was able to fix our tactical problems where we were getting burned a lot to allow help for my teammates. We were pretty young."

To step back on the field for his senior season allows Diehl the chance to rewrite his injury-plagued high school career. It also presents an opportunity at redemption for the Sehome boys' soccer program, Diehl said, given the forgettable nature of last year.

"Thank god last year wasn't my senior year," Diehl said. "That would've killed me."

Mentally, Diehl said he's overcome the fear of re-breaking the ankle. It's come with time, he said, but to play with apprehension or hesitation would be to take away what makes him so valuable on defense for the Mariners.

"I bring an aggression. We have a chip on our shoulder. Sehome soccer has gone downhill the last two years," Diehl said. "I know we can all bond together as a unit, and just because our team is young doesn't mean we can't go far."

And if he does in fact re-break that ankle, so be it, Diehl said.

"If I get injured again, obviously I was destined to get injured again," Diehl said.

Sylvester and the rest of the Mariners' roster are hoping that's not the case.

Reach Alex Bigelow at alex.bigelow@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.

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