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Field hockey player of the year: Villa Duchesne's Tkachuk fought past injury for perfect finish to prolific career

Field hockey player of the year: Villa Duchesne's Tkachuk fought past injury for perfect finish to prolific career

From the 2020 All-Metro field hockey series
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11/30/20 - Field Hockey - Midwest FH Champ - Villa Duchense vs John Buroughs

Villa Duchesne Saints senior Taryn Tkachuk (23) celebrates after scoring the winning goal in overtime in the Midwest Field Hockey Tournament Championship on Saturday, October 31, 2020 at Sportport in Maryland Heights, Mo. Rick Ulreich, Special to STLhighschoolsports.com

It was the combination of Ted Williams going deep in his final plate appearance, Joe Carter hitting a World Series-winning home run and Kirk Gibson limping around the bases.

Playing in her final game for Villa Duchesne and wearing heavy bandages around her left leg, senior Taryn Tkachuk scored the game-winning goal in overtime to win the Midwest Field Hockey Tournament championship in walk-off fashion.

Or rather, hobble-off fashion.

The backhand shot that sailed into the top corner of the net was Tkachuk’s 32nd goal of the season, more than double the total of any other player in the metro area, and her eighth game-winning goal.

Tkachuk is the Post-Dispatch All-Metro field hockey player of the year for the third consecutive season.

The overtime goal seemed like the logical conclusion to a decorated high school career, but a few days earlier, the chances of a storybook ending seemed far off in a distant land.

During the state quarterfinal victory against Summit, Tkachuk seriously injured a leg muscle attempting to maneuver around a defender. She exited the field on crutches and in tears.

“So much stress was going through my mind after that happened," Tkachuk said. "I thought, ‘This can’t be happening right now.' "

Tkachuk had a quick turnaround to recover for the state semifinal, and Villa Duchesne coach Kate Graft began preparing for the likelihood her star forward would miss the remainder of the playoffs.

“When I saw her, I was certainly a bit concerned (for the team) but sadder for her,” Graft said. “I hated to think that she might not be able to finish out the season. She wanted this so bad and had been working so hard since last season.”

11/30/20 - Field Hockey - Midwest FH Champ - Villa Duchense vs John Buroughs

Villa Duchesne Saints senior Taryn Tkachuk (23) is lifted up as a hero by fans after scoring the game winning goal in overtime in the Midwest Field Hockey Tournament Championship on Saturday, October 31, 2020 at Sportport in Maryland Heights , Mo. Rick Ulreich, Special to STLhighschoolsports.com

That 2019 season was a historically productive one for Tkachuk. Her 43 goals were more than any area player in the last 20 years. She won All-Metro player of the year for the second time.

But that campaign thudded to a halt with a 1-0 loss to MICDS in the Midwest Tournament Championship game — the only time Tkachuk was on the losing end of a shutout against a team from Missouri in her four years.

With record-breaking statistics, postseason accolades and a college signing with NCAA Division I powerhouse Virginia assured, the temptation to downshift and coast into her senior season never crossed her mind.

She pinpointed areas of weakness in her game and sought out instructors to address them, including a “quick feet” specialist and a personal trainer named “Crash.”

“Some days were long, but I just wanted to be the best I could be,” Tkachuk said. “Especially after last year, I wanted to do everything I could to make sure I didn’t have any regrets.”

COVID-19 restrictions temporarily deferred the start of the 2020 season, and Tkachuk and her teammates endured more than six weeks of practice without any games on the schedule.

“It was a long couple months not knowing if we were going to play, but we kept our positivity in thinking that there might be a possibility,” Tkachuk said.

And when the 2020 season finally started, Tkachuk could not be stopped.

She scored four goals against Visitation in the season-opener and five more the following game against Summit. She totaled 25 goals in her first eight games, which included six hat tricks, and Villa Duchesne rolled to an undefeated regular season.

“Our entire team came out with a bang. We were ready,” Tkachuk said.

11/30/20 - Field Hockey - Midwest FH Champ - Villa Duchense vs John Buroughs

Villa Duchesne Saints sophomore Gigi Edwards (7) , Villa Duchesne Saints senior Taryn Tkachuk (23) , Villa Duchesne Saints junior Garner Hostnik (18) celebrate their victory in the Midwest Field Hockey Tournament Championship on Saturday, October 31, 2020 at Sportport in Maryland Heights , Mo. Rick Ulreich, Special to STLhighschoolsports.com

With convincing wins over Parkway West and Summit, the Saints sprinted into the Midwest Tournament semifinals. A hobbled Tkachuk hoped to join them.

“I wanted to play so bad and I knew I couldn’t let my team down,” Tkachuk said. “It was a close call.”

With a massive wrap around her left leg, a less explosive Tkachuk played almost every minute of both the semifinal and championship games.

In the semifinal, she roofed a backhand shot for the final Villa goal in a 4-1 win over Cor Jesu. It was a precursor to the top-shelf, reverse shot she launched in overtime to win the Midwest Tournament championship against John Burroughs two days later.

“I couldn’t move the way I wanted, and I definitely felt slower and a little held back, but I tried to push through it and end (my career) with a win,” Tkachuk said.

She led the area in scoring all four years and totaled a mind-boggling 135 goals and 91 assists in her career, but it was her quest to improve in all aspects of the game that made her the complete player she is.

“Her overall game awareness, passing and defensive skills have improved, and she spent countless hours in the offseason improving her overhead throws and reverse shot,” Graft said.

And just like the dramatic dingers by Ted Williams, Joe Carter and Kirk Gibson, the legacy of Taryn Tkachuk and her reverse shot in overtime will be remembered for years to come.

“Taryn has certainly left her mark on Villa field hockey and St. Louis field hockey as well,” Graft said.

ALL-METRO FIELD HOCKEY FIRST TEAM

ALL-METRO FIELD HOCKEY SECOND TEAM

ALL-METRO FIELD HOCKEY THIRD TEAM

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