Matthew Jonas / Times-Call
The return of senior Moran Lu from a 2013 knee injury has the Mead Mavericks eyeing a deeper playoff run

Tired of the long, frigid winter? Think you’ve been waiting anxiously for spring to come? Maybe so, but not nearly as much as Morgan Lu has.

While tax specialists, neat freaks and outdoors enthusiasts across Colorado prime themselves for the seasonal change that signals their annual rebirths, this spring means more to Mead High School’s Morgan Lu. It means soccer is back, and she was waited longer than most to play.

But Lu isn’t the type to focus on the negative. In fact, so far this spring, she hasn’t been able to stop smiling.

“Every game and every practice, I can’t help but to come off the field smiling,” Lu said. “I’m so happy to be back out here and playing again. I never really realized how much I love soccer until I couldn’t play last season.”

Lu completely tore the ACL in her right knee against Estes Park on March 21, 2013, and underwent surgery to repair the tear on April 11. She was cleared in January to play cutting sports with a brace on her right knee and has rejoined the Mavericks for the 2014 season.

It’s difficult to judge whether Lu is happier to be back with the Mavericks or if the Mavericks are happier to have her back. Either way, both parties are excited that the forward who was the team’s best player as a sophomore has managed an impressive recovery and will be up to full strength for her senior year.

“I almost feel stronger on the leg that I tore because I put so much work into it,” Lu said. “When I try to plant it and take a left-footed shot, I’m still a little hesitant on it. It’s a bit of a mental game still. But physically, it doesn’t bother me.”

In her final season with the Mavericks, Lu is hoping to do something the program has never done. As a team, the Mavericks have similar goals, which include leapfrogging Windsor for the Tri-Valley League title and winning the program’s first state playoff game.

Though Mead is a relatively new school, the Mavericks have made the postseason in each of the program’s first three varsity seasons. However, they have been ousted in the first round each year, most recently with a overwhelming 8-0 loss to Mullen in their 4A state tournament appearance last year.

“We want to do something besides just make it there,” Lu said. “We want to get a top 16 seed this year. Last year when we moved to 4A, it was a lot harder and it was a good wake-up call for us. In 4A, we can’t just walk over teams anymore. We’re treating every game like a playoff game and we definitely want to win the conference this year.”

Lu’s athleticism, production and leadership could be the boost that tips the scales in the Mavericks’ favor.

As a sophomore in 2012, Lu registered team-highs with 16 goals and eight assists while starting at forward. Before injuring her knee in 2013, she had four goals in five games and the Mavericks were undefeated at 4-0-1. Already in 2014, Lu scored twice in the Mavericks’ season-opening win over Berthoud and nearly missed a hat trick at the end of the game.

Despite Lu going down in the first quarter of last season, the Mavericks still finished 10-4-2, due in large part to a stout defense and the emergence of 2013 freshman Maddie Kessler. Scoring 15 goals on her way to being named the Times-Call girls soccer Player of the Year, Kessler will move to the offensive center midfield spot in the 3-5-2 formation and take on more responsibility for driving the offense and distributing the ball.

“It’s definitely a new thing for me but I’m excited to do more of the distributing and helping push the offense forward,” said Kessler, who has recorded three goals and an assist through the Mavericks’ first two games. “I’m still looking to get up and get off a couple shots here and there and I’m taking it as a challenge. It’s going to be great now that Morgan is back. We’ll definitely be able to look for each other a lot.”

The Mavericks are also excited about freshman Jessica Keener’s potential on the defensive back line and have senior BoCoPreps all-region honorable mention goalkeeper Shayna Maypole back in the net. More seasoned and hungrier, the Mavericks are excited about their team’s potential in 2014.

But the Mavericks’ most crucial and longest-awaited return has been Lu’s. The wait is over.

“Her pure speed alone and her threat at all times to score forces teams to keep track of her,” Mavericks head coach Mike Schulz said. “Typically, teams put a mark on her. That opens things up for us. It gives us other looks and other options we can use. She’s a great player and a great leader and we are incredibly excited to have her back on the field.”

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