BOULDER — Annie Chen knew right when it happened.
Coming off of a successful freshman campaign, the then Boulder sophomore was set to embark on her second season at the top of the Panthers program at No. 1 singles.
Chen was playing in an early dual last season, and she felt something go in her right shoulder.
"I didn't think it was a big tear at the beginning," said Chen, who was forced to hit the brakes on both her high school and summer season with an injured rotator cuff.
"I continued to play with it, but I think it got worse. I knew something was wrong, I just didn't think it was serious though."
But if anyone had the right mind-set for the loss of her season it was Chen. She knew that a extensive rehabilitation was in her future and she set forth to strengthen her injured right shoulder.
"It was difficult being away from the courts, but I knew what I had to do," she said. "There was a lot of physical therapy and stretching to make my shoulder stronger.
"It was a lot of hard work at the beginning and getting back into it wasn't easy. I had to start really easy again but I'm really happy with how I've progressed since the injury."
Known as a "wall" — for getting absolutely everything back — Chen has a new found strength in he arm and with that some added aggression. Whereas before she might have been content to simply stay in the point and forcing her opponent to make the mistake, Chen is now going for shots and trying to put points away.
"Her game, and maybe it was because she was protecting her shoulder, she did a lot of blocking back and was interested in just staying in the game as long as possible," said second year Boulder coach Elizabeth Korevaar, who has been around the program now for three seasons and seen Chen grow. "Now she is much more offensive and you can see that she is really loving it."
With her new found confidence and a shoulder at 100 percent, Korevaar and Chen are not setting lofty goals, but instead are aiming for more of a team-oriented progression that should make everyone on the Panthers roster better.
"It's still so early, but I'm sure she has some expectations for herself," Korevaar said. "I'm looking forward to seeing how she works with everybody else and amps their game up."
Said Chen, who would love to represent the Panthers at the state tournament: "I just want to do my best every match, and there will be some tough competition, but I also want to be a good teammate, leader and just have fun. Getting to state would be a great way to finish the season, but I am just taking it day by day and match by match."