It was a bittersweet reunion for Ashley Gonzales in the first women’s soccer game of the year against No. 2 UCLA. Almost a year ago, she suffered a season-ending injury against the same team and limped off the field in excruciating pain, with a torn ACL and an uncertainty about the rest of her athletic career.
Today, the senior forward’s signature pink bow can be seen darting across the field again, a tradition she has donned since high school.
“The same week I found out it was my ACL, it was really tough,” Gonzales said. “There were a lot of emotions going through my head.”
The Ontario native was hopeful that she would be diagnosed with only an MCL injury, a four week recovery, but reality set in quickly when she was diagnosed with a much more serious injury that would last months. To this day, tears brim her eyes every time she relives the memory of limping off the game.
“Mentally it was tough to get over this, I didn’t know if I was going to bounce back,” Gonzales said.
Soccer came into Gonzales’ life accidently.
“I was actually supposed to be a cheerleader,” Gonzales said. “In order to cheerlead I had to be five, but I was only four and a half.”
The age mishap worked out well for Gonzales, who has seen much success in her collegiate soccer career thus far, and plans to enter the draft for the National Women’s Soccer League after this year.
She has earned accolades including the 2016 Big West Conference Offensive Player of the Year in addition to a First Team All-Big West selection. Gonzales was also named to the 2016 NSCAA All-West Region First Team and 2017 MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List. Her accolades are endless, but recovery from a massive injury was a new challenge for her.
Sitting out the rest of her junior year became more of a mental battle than a physical one, having to watch her team struggle throughout the season. Long Beach women’s soccer had gone to the NCAA tournament the previous season, and had high expectations heading into the 2017-2018 season.
“There was nothing I can really do but just cheer them on, and that’s when I learned I had to be there for my team on the sideline,” Gonzales said. “At first I didn’t think I can do anything for the team, but I knew at that point that was my role on the field.”
The injury may have been a blessing in disguise for the senior forward after realizing how much she needed to be a leader both on and off the field. She made it her mission to develop into a better leader before trying to improve her game.
“I want to make sure I have a relationship with all my teammates on and off the court so we can trust each other,” Gonzales said. “I had blinders on before and only focused on trying to win.”
Gonzales admitted that she too expected a lot from herself even when recovering from a debilitating injury.
“It’s a process and I make sure not to mentally check out when something isn’t going the way I want it to,” Gonzales said.
Battling through this injury has also brought her get closer to head coach Mauricio Ingrassia as she spent months watching him on the sideline.
“It was hard to see her go down early, but she stayed patient and remained a big part of the team,” Ingrassia said. “Our biggest improvement this year is just having her on the field with us.”
While Gonzales has only scored one goal this season, she is looking healthy and has been playing big minutes.
Gonzales is hungry for another tournament run and determined to end her final year at Long Beach State holding the NCAA trophy in December. When thinking about what comes after, Gonzales just hopes that soccer continues to be a big part of her life.
“Wherever I go I’ll be happy with because I just really want to play and experience being a professional,” Gonzales said. “Once I cross that line nothing matters anymore except playing soccer.”