September 4, 2001

Slaton Back on the Field for Santa Clara

By Dean Caparaz
womenssoccer.com in San Jose

Hermann Watch: Danielle Slaton is one of 13 women nominated for the prestigious 2001 Hermann Trophy. For more information, click here.

Sept. 4, 2001

San Jose, Calif. - Which Danielle Slaton will play for Santa Clara this season?

The one who played through pain during the 2000 college season? Or the talented All-American defender who earned a spot on the U.S. national team?

Will she even play?

Santa Clara hopes she does. The perennial West Coast power, considering their high standards, had a down year last season, when injuries and illnesses hit several players, including Slaton (knee), Aly Wagner (hamstring), Anna Kraus (colitis) and Veronica Zepeda (back).

Slaton missed nine games for Santa Clara because she was in Australia. She then played with a sore right knee in 15 games for the Broncos, as they reached the fourth round of the NCAA playoffs.

Coach Jerry Smith expects to have most of his players healthy this year, but he needs his best player back if his team expects to reach the Women's College Cup as they are wont to do.

"We really missed her play on the field last year," Smith said. "It's really more than just her play. We missed her leadership. She's a third-year captain and her leadership is vital to how we play. She brings so much experience, enthusiasm and knowledge to what we put on the field. That's especially important this year because half of our team is freshmen."

"Getting her voice out there and showing them the ropes obviously makes a big difference for our team," Wagner said. "When you have great players such as Danielle, having all that experience, it helps to bring up the intensity of each training session, which is so important to helping everyone on the team get better."

Smith has not decided what position Slaton will play this season. Her best position is left back, where she has played most of the time with the Broncos and the national team. But Smith moved her to central defense for part of last year, because he did not have enough experienced players to fill that role and because Slaton would put less wear and tear on her knee in a position that required less running than left back.

The bad knee sidelined Slaton from the end of Santa Clara's 2000 college season to the start of the Broncos' 2001 preseason, which began on Aug. 15.

She says she first noticed a problem in June of 2000, as the national team prepared for the Olympics. An MRI exam on her knee revealed the problem.

"It's an articular cartilage defect," Slaton said. "It's on my femur, on the lateral side, so a lateral femoral condile defect is the technical term for it. I had surgery when I was young, in high school. I tore my meniscus, so I don't have very much meniscus there. Just a combination of the fact I pound on my knees every day and just the way my body is and having a minimal amount of meniscus there, it all contributed."

She considered radical surgery in the offseason but put it off in favor of less invasive options, such as physical therapy and anti-inflammatory drugs. The surgery would have required a rehabilitation period of six to seven months.

The way Slaton decided to treat her knee could leave her out much longer -- she may need to red shirt her senior season -- if the knee does not respond.

"She was set to have surgery in the winter," Smith said. "When our team doctor, Dr. Dillingham, went in there, he didn't do the surgery. He recommended a more radical surgery, which involved breaking her tibia and inserting a wedge into her leg to realign her articulation at her knee. The only option to that was taking about nine months off and see what would happen. That's the choice that she made and took nine months off. She's rusty, and we're limiting how much she practices with our team. Early signs are she'll play and not red shirt."

Red-shirting Slaton would hurt Santa Clara in 2001, though it would ensure that Smith would have both Slaton and Wagner, who is a red-shirt junior, back for 2002.

But the Olympic silver medalist has a bright future in the sport, from the national team to the WUSA, and neither Smith nor Slaton wants to jeopardize that.

"We're going to see how the season goes and re-evaluate if I should continue to play as I go along," she said. "I'll cross my fingers and hopefully everything will go as I want them to go and I'll be able to play after college."

womenssoccer.com 2001