More than a year has passed, but Karsten Sigband still remembers the match well.
The date was Dec. 4, 2010. Sigband was playing for her club girls’ soccer team, Breakaway, in a U.S. Youth Soccer national league match in Wilson, N.C.
Snow was falling during the game. Then Sigband fell too.
“I turned and I heard a huge pop,” Sigband said. "[It was] really loud. I had a pretty good idea when I went down that it was my ACL ... It was pretty devastating. It’s basically the worst thing that can happen to a soccer player.”
Her sophomore year playing at Corona del Mar High vanished when Sigband tore that anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. She couldn’t even have surgery until February, because she had to wait for the swelling to go down.
“That period of time was really frustrating,” she said. “I was kind of sitting around. I wasn’t doing anything to get better.”
Sigband returned to game action with the Breakaway in late October. Early in her junior year at CdM, the center midfielder appears to be making up for lost time.
She has returned stronger than ever. Sigband had two goals and an assist in the Butch Lee Memorial Tournament in San Diego last weekend, earning all-tournament team honors as she helped CdM reach the title game.
Then, on Tuesday, Sigband scored an insurance goal in the Battle of the Bay, a 2-0 victory over rival Newport Harbor. She got kicked in the ankle while scoring the goal, causing her to miss Thursday’s big road win over Edison.
But one characteristic that would define Sigband is her toughness. CdM Coach Bryan Middleton has seen it on the field when she goes for tackles. Even coming back from a torn ACL, that hasn’t been an issue.
“Mentally you have to get over the fear that you can get hurt again,” Middleton said. “You have to trust yourself, that you’re strong enough to play the game at 100%. In the Newport Harbor game, Karsten got into probably two or three tackles that were 100%. She has no fear. If you’ve known her from playing in the past, she can also be a physically dominating player, too. She does not back out of tackles.”
Middleton trusts Sigband to control the game in the middle. She creates quite a tandem there for CdM with the girl she calls her best friend, CdM junior Annie Alvarado.
Alvarado, a UCLA commit, assisted both of Sigband’s goals in San Diego. They are part of a talented quartet that plays for both CdM and Breakaway, also including Michigan-bound senior defender Sydney Raguse and George Mason-bound senior defender Amanda Stephenson. That Breakaway team also features Newport Harbor junior Jill Messersmith.
Sigband, Alvarado, Raguse and Stephenson have been playing together for years. Each is a valuable piece of the puzzle for the Sea Kings (7-1-1), who are expecting big things in their second year in CIF Southern Section Division I.
They’re currently ranked No. 4 in Division I, and No. 11 in the nation by ESPN.
“I think we’ve just gelled so well together,” Sigband said. “We’re all really close. I just think that this year especially is going to be a good year for us to see how far we can go. Our goal is to win CIF.”
The Sea Kings have six Division I recruits; Sigband is already considering Ivy League schools to continue her career in college. It makes sense, as she has a 4.2 grade-point average at CdM and has never gotten a “B” in high school.
The course load is tough this year for Sigband, with Advanced Placement classes in English, Spanish and biology, as well as trigonometry and honors U.S. history. On the soccer field, she makes things difficult for opponents.
But getting back on that field proved more challenging, especially for a good club team.
“I don’t think I was expecting how difficult it would be,” Sigband said. “I’ve never really got seriously injured to where I had to come back. I knew it was going to be hard, but it was a lot, being in a game and not being able to play a 40-yard ball that I was used to being able to play. Or not being able to run fast. The speed of play was just so surprising, and my club team’s really good. I was immediately put in a situation that I had to perform, and it was really tough.”
Sigband has handled it well. She’s quite experienced on the pitch, since she’s been playing club soccer for roughly half of her life. She’s left-footed, but also quite capable with her right foot. At least two of her three goals this year have come with the right foot.
In San Diego, she fired one in from the top of the 18-yard box. Against Newport Harbor, she beat the keeper on a through ball from Alana Hunter.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Sigband said modestly. “It wasn’t like I was beating 12 players and scoring amazing goals. They were not amazing goals, but I think scoring definitely gives me a lot more confidence to keep going. And everyone’s super-supportive of me on the field, so it’s not like I’m worried about letting anybody else down. I know that they’re backing me up.”
One of those teammates backing her up is her younger sister, Birkley, a freshman. Two years ago, Karsten was the freshman on varsity while her older sister, Paige, was a senior. Paige, Karsten and Birkley Sigband all play at center mid.
“As a freshman, I think [Birkley] knows that when she gets in she needs to make the most of it,” Karsten Sigband said. “I think that she’s done that. She’s definitely proving herself, so that’s fun. I love playing with my sisters, and my grandparents can come and see both of us. It’s fun for them, too. It’s just a cool thing.”
CdM has enjoyed a cool start to its season. After Christmas the Sea Kings head to the Flintridge Sacred Heart tournament Dec. 27-28, where they could possibly see host Flintridge Sacred Heart in the championship match. The Tologs, the defending Division I champions, are the top-ranked team in the nation by ESPN.
With Sigband back in the middle, the Sea Kings would have a shot.
The fighter gives them more than a fighting chance.
“She knows the game very well,” Middleton said. “Right now she’s leading by example, with her hard work on the field and her hard work in practice. She’s getting the job done when she’s on the field. It’s great to have her back at full strength and contributing to the team.”
Born: Feb. 10, 1995
Hometown: Balboa Island
Coach: Bryan Middleton
Favorite food: Chocolate
Favorite movie: “The Shawshank Redemption”
Favorite athletic moment: In late October, playing in her first scrimmage with her club team Breakaway since tearing her ACL. “I went in for a tackle and I stuck the girl, and it was just the best thing ever because I was so nervous. I wasn’t thinking about my knee, and everyone cheered. It was fun.”
Week in review: Sigband had two goals and an assist at the Butch Lee Memorial Tournament in San Diego, helping the Sea Kings earn second place and earning herself all-tournament honors. She also scored a goal in CdM’s 2-0 Battle of the Bay victory over Newport Harbor on Tuesday.