By STEVE HEISER
For one glorious moment, Cassy Landis could feel no pain.
There was nothing but pure, unadulterated joy.
In an instant, she was mobbed by her Siena College teammates, who came streaming onto the pitch to engulf the junior striker.
The spontaneous outburst came after one of the most amazing, unlikely goals you will ever see in a women’s soccer match.
Landis, a Dallastown High School graduate, was stationed in front of the Canisius goal during an intense scoreless overtime match last Wednesday. Just 49 seconds into the OT, she received a cross at the top of the six-yard box. Landis then perfectly timed a bicycle kick, which deflected off the Canisius goalkeeper and into the net.
The golden goal gave the surging Saints a critical 1-0 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference victory. Siena is now unbeaten in its last six matches.
For Landis, it was just latest chapter in an inspiring comeback story.
The 5-foot, 5-inch Landis was a star during her four-year career with the Wildcats, piling up multiple all-star honors and leading Dallastown to numerous championships. In her senior season, she scored 24 goals in 22 games, sparking the Wildcats to a 19-2-1 record.
Her efforts garnered attention from the coaches at Siena, an NCAA Division I program in Loudonville, N.Y.
The injuries: That’s when the injury problems started.
She dealt with some hip and back injuries that lingered from her high school days. She eventually had a procedure done on her spine. That limited her to just four contests in her freshman year at Siena, making her eligible for a redshirt season.
During her sophomore season, she suffered a concussion, requiring her to miss several weeks. In her first game back after the concussion, she was involved in a violent, frightening, full-speed collision. She crumpled to the ground. The game was immediately stopped and Landis was put on a backboard, fitted with a neck brace and transported to a hospital.
Fortunately, the injuries were primarily internal bruising, which aggravated her asthma.
She bounced back in time to return for the league playoffs and helped her team advance to the MAAC semifinals for the first time since 2010.
When her sophomore season ended, she had surgery for torn ligaments in her ankle, which she had injured the previous spring. She opted to put off surgery until the fall 2013 season was over, all the while playing with the ankle pain.
Not surprisingly, all of the injuries left her parents concerned — very concerned.
“Her mother told her last year that she would give it up if she was Cass,” said Bruce Landis, who is Cassy’s father. “I have never told her that, because as her coach for many years, I know how much she loves to play. But last year, when I saw her get taken out on a backboard a few weeks after another concussion, I felt sick and was worried about her future.”
Despite her parents’ worries, Cassy wouldn’t give up. She worked hard to rehab the ankle and has emerged this season to lead the Saints in scoring with five goals for 10 points. Two of her goals were game-winners. The Saints are 6-5-5 overall and 3-1-3 in the MAAC.
Never considered quitting: Despite all of her ailments, Landis said she never really considered quitting.
“I love the game,” she said. “Injuries are just part of the game you have to overcome.”
Still, Landis admitted it got difficult at times.
“It got pretty discouraging with the repeated injuries when I finally got to experience my dream of playing D-I … and couldn’t play and help the team,” she said. “I always played soccer and it is part of who I am. I am getting a great education at a school that has been good to me and I owed it to the team.”
Still not 100 percent: Unfortunately for Landis, she’s still not 100 percent fit, although you couldn’t tell it from her play.
“My ankle still gets sore from the surgery, but it’s OK,” she said. “I have been battling shin splints and Achilles tendinitis in that leg, though, probably because of the down time from the surgery.”
In fact, Bruce Landis believes the best may be yet to come from Cassy.
“Her confidence and playing form is still not 100 percent back yet,” he said. “Though she is leading the team in scoring, the coach still limits her time to only about a half per game, so she could easily be at the top of the league and NCAA statistically if playing full games.”
The future: As for the future, Landis has some big goals. She’d like to help her team to the MAAC title and an NCAA tournament berth. The business management major also has two more years of athletic eligibility after this season to continue pursuing a sport that she is still passionate about, despite the injuries.
“It has always been part of our family and my life,” she said. “I love the adrenaline rush after a great play or an awesome goal in a tight game. Americans don’t like the sport because of the low-scoring game, but it takes a lot of teamwork and athletic ability just to get the ball in the net, which makes a goal even more precious.”
Last week, Landis enjoyed scoring one of those “awesome” and “precious” goals in a “tight” game.
The unbridled celebration that ensued provided a memory that will last a lifetime.
And in that exquisite instant, Cassy Landis felt no pain.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.