TROY, ILL. — Eryn Fanning's commitment to the Triad girls soccer program was crystal clear a year ago, even as she was sidelined the entire season because of hip surgery.
Fanning was off the field her entire junior campaign, so she stepped up to help serve in a managerial role for the Knights.
It became clear to Fanning — and her teammates — that maintaining accurate statistics was going to be a challenge each game.
“I got so caught up being on the bench and like the atmosphere of it all,” Fanning said. “About half the time, I'd be like, 'So, what happened?' ”
Or as fellow Triad senior defender Sydney Beach recalled with a laugh at Fanning's record keeping: “She … kind of forgot.”
Fanning returned to a more familiar and comfortable role in her fourth and final season with the Knights.
Fully recovered from the Feb. 2018 surgery to repair a torn labrum in her left hip, the senior has been a stalwart at the defensive position of stopper this season for Triad.
She also played that position as a freshman and sophomore, helping the Knights win the Illinois Class 2A state championship in 2017.
Fanning is one of 10 players from that title-winning team who are two victories away from earning another as Triad (19-3-2) takes on Benet Academy (22-3-1) at 1 p.m. Friday in a Class 2A state semifinal at North Central College in Naperville.
“She's a dynamite kid,” Triad coach Matt Bettlach said. “She's a huge piece to what we have right now and she was a huge piece on the 2017 title team. For her to skip a year (because of injury) and come back her senior year, storybook ending.”
Unbeaten in its last 16 games, Triad is in the state tournament for the fifth time in program history and seeks its third championship, also winning in 2011.
The veterans of the 2017 squadron have integrated with some younger players the last couple of seasons to keep the program among the elite in the area and in the Illinois 2A ranks.
Fanning's return to the lineup this season was a boost, as well, after the Knights fell in a sectional final last season.
“I think people stepped up to the plate in her place, but there's no other Eryn Fanning,” said Beach, a St. Louis University signee and four-year varsity stalwart. “She always works her butt off, she always works 110 percent. It's just her presence, we missed it.”
Beach is Triad's sweeper, the last line of defense ahead of the goalkeeper. The stopper position, where Fanning plays for Triad, works in conjunction with a sweeper in the heart of a back line.
Bettlach often deploys Fanning in a man-marking role, such as Tuesday in a 2-0 victory against Springfield in the Class 2A Chatham Glenwood Super-Sectional.
“She had to crawl again before walking, but now it's like she hasn't missed an entire year,” Bettlach said. “Before it was more of a fitness thing, ball touch. She'll tell you, the speed of the game, she had to get used to that again.”
Fanning started to be bothered by her left hip the fall of her junior year as she played club soccer.
She said the hip got bad late in the fall and physical therapy didn't improve the discomfort.
Further evaluation revealed surgery would be necessary to correct the tear.
“It got to the point where it was continuously popping just walking down the hall in school,” Fanning said. “It started really affecting my daily life. I knew I wanted to be able to play both club and high school my senior year, so I decided to have surgery my junior year of high school soccer so I'd be able to come back.”
Bettlach said he had no doubt Fanning would get back on the field after her year off, so her uniform number of 15 wasn't issued during the 2018 season.
Sure enough, Fanning returned last summer with her club soccer team and has been available every game this spring for Triad.
“Building my stamina back was what was really hard and what I kind of struggled with coming back into high school, just that constant motion in the back,” Fanning said. “I think as games have gone on, it's become easier for me a little bit.”
The end is near for Fanning's career, of her own choosing. Six of Triad's 10 already graduated seniors are pursuing a college athletics career, but Fanning isn't one of them.
She said she might play club ball at Missouri State University while majoring in biology.
But even though college soccer wasn't in Fanning's plans, she was determined not to let surgery be her final memory of the sport.
“I knew we had just come back from state, and missing junior year, I knew I wanted to come back and experience it again,” Fanning said. “My sophomore year of high school soccer is probably one of the best seasons of soccer my entire life and I wanted to have that feeling again. When days would get tough — going back into club, I was really struggling some of the beginning games — I just had to think about the big picture and how much I wanted to be back where we were.”
Fanning and the Knights are on the cusp of being back there again, as the best Class 2A girls soccer team in Illinois.