Sept. 29, 2009
By Larry Watts
The less she sees of Michigan State the better as far as Paige Laytos is concerned.
It's not that the Michigan redshirt junior has a dislike for the Wolverines' top rival. It just seems as though Michigan State brings back too many bad memories of trips to the doctor.
Of her two concussions and two knee surgeries, the center midfielder ties three of them to Michigan State.
"I had never been injured in field hockey before I came here (to Ann Arbor) and Michigan State seems to be a hex on me," the Lititz, Pa. native says. "I think I've seen the same doctor at Michigan State more than most of the Spartans. My mom and him have gotten to be good buddies. She's always standing over him to make sure he does a good job."
The first concussion came freshman year when she took a ball to the head. The resulting wound required eight staples to close.
"For some reason, my head was a target for a lot of balls that season," she says. "So I started wearing a mask."
But the mask was no help when she collided with a Michigan State player the following year. Not only did she suffer her second concussion, but it also took seven stitches to close the gash on the side of her face.
"I figured enough with these head injuries, let's move it down a little further on my body," she says with a laugh.
So while playing their final spring game against Central Michigan, she ripped the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. The game was being played at, you guessed it, Michigan State.
"I was going for the ball and my knee went one way and my foot went the other," she says. "That made for a lovely summer."
The ACL tear wiped out all but three games of her junior season. The All-Big Ten first-team selection, who had 25 points in her career, was forced into the role of No. 1 cheerleader during the Wolverines' disappointing 8-12 campaign.
Laytos returned to play for the Midwest team during the USA National Futures Tournament in Virginia Beach, Va. last June. But while playing the Pennsylvania/California team, she took a hip check while going in for a corner and tore the meniscus in the same knee. At least Michigan State wasn't involved in this one.
"My knee just caved in," she says. "I was able to walk off the field, but I knew something was really wrong. I never heard anything pop, but it hurt a lot worse than when I tore my ACL. The doctor said it had no correlation to my ACL; it was strictly the contact from the other person that caused it."
Laytos is back on the field for the Wolverines this fall as they attempt to right the ship under head coach Marcia Pankratz, who has returned to the program. Although her practice time is limited, she says she usually plays all but two minutes each half in games. She has already scored two goals and had a three assists in the Wolverines' first 10 matches.
"Even though I'm on the sidelines a lot at practice, I try to make my presence felt as a captain by showing as much support as I can for the other players," she says. "If it means being a referee or just getting balls, I want to contribute any way possible. We have some tough practices and I try to stay as positive as possible."
Laytos has already had her knee drained twice and is hoping for a third one soon.
"The draining is pretty painful, but my knee really swells up at the end of games," she says. "Once the adrenaline gets going, I'm pretty good. I'm in a lot of pain at the end of a game, but it's all worth it. Ice and elevate is my motto."
If there has been a positive to the injuries, they have given Laytos a fresher outlook.
"Honestly, this has been a challenge, like I'm being tested every day," she says. "One of the good things is these injuries have made me such a stronger person, someone I thought I could never be. I've learned to handle all this adversity and be happy with life where I am. I never looked at the bigger picture until now and I'm not taking anything for granted.
"I try to be modest and I used to pride myself so much through my field hockey. The accolades really haven't meant a lot, but I didn't know who I was and that was scary because I knew nothing about life and where I was going to go in life outside of field hockey. I've just learned to make lemonade out of lemons and enjoy every day."
Laytos says having Pankratz back with the program after a four-year hiatus has played a big role in her own transition with the sport.
"Marcia expects you to be the best person you can be and holds us to different standards than we have ever been held to," she says. "In the big scheme of things, it's going to make me a stronger person in the business world. What I'm learning from her as a coach will carry over so much in life."
Despite all the injuries, Laytos says she has no inclination to go into the field of nursing.
"I should go into nursing so I could learn how to treat myself," she says with a laugh. "But I'm not good at that stuff. I'll just go ahead and finish in the business school and probably do a master's in accounting during my fifth year.
"If my body can take it, I'll be back for another year. But right now, I think my parents are ready to put me on my own insurance plan."