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LM's WCLA Division II Preseason Player of Year a centerpiece for Oakland

01/02/2013, 7:45pm EST
By J. Jude Hazard

Messina Fights Through Injuries to Get Back Up

It's not whether you get knocked down; it's whether you get back up.

Vince Lombardi and countless coaches who followed in his footsteps have said a variant of that mantra at all levels of organized sports.

For the last four years at Oakland University, Desiree Messina has lived it.

The Oakland University senior midfielder broke her ankle during the US Lacrosse Women's Collegiate Lacrosse Associates Division II National Championship in May of 2012. It's no surprise Messina brought herself back to full strength for fall ball less than six months later. She's had plenty of practice.

"Staying positive is a very important thing," Messina said. "If you get down on yourself, you won't rehabilitate as quickly."

Messina tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus in her left knee in the spring of her high school senior year in 2008. She tried to come back for her freshman year at Oakland but blew her knee out again that fall. She also separated right shoulder in 2009 and has broken four fingers in her college career.

"I never imagined that I would be where I am or would have developed this much as a player," Messina said. "To come back from two serious injuries to even be able to play on a college level is amazing to me."

Named the top midfielder in the WCLA last season, Messina will anchor a Grizzly program that has won four straight league championships and advanced to nationals the last three years. She's a three-time All-Women's Collegiate Lacrosse League pick and a returning first-team All-American.

"She has great field presence and great field awareness. It's very hard to teach someone to have that in lacrosse," Oakland coach Towbey Kassa said. "It's hard to teach lacrosse IQ. We have a good handful of girls that have it and Desiree is one of those girls that has it. She's able to draw two or three girls because of her mobility and stick skills."

Messina had 77 goals and 33 assists in the 2012 regular season. The Grizzlies will look to her and standout sophomore Brianna Johnson to key the offense for a squad that Kassa said is more focused than ever. Johnson burst on to the stage in her own right in 2012, scoring 21 goals in three WCLA tournament games, including 10 in a first-round loss to Westminster.

Oakland held a six-goal lead at one point during that 24-18 loss. Kassa said the Grizzlies are hungrier than ever to take the program to the next level and compete with the top programs for a shot at a national championship.

"This fall, they played so collectively as a unit and they were so focused on the task at hand," Kassa said, adding that the team looked like a well-oiled machine both on and off the field. "With Oakland being a commuter school, it's really hard for a lot of the girls to get together outside of lacrosse."

Messina, too, sensed an added intensity and focus during fall ball this year. The team hopes to cast aside infighting and drama to concentrate their full energy on a competitive regular season schedule she said the team takes pride in every year. Messina believes the addition of lacrosse veteran Dwayne Hicks, Michigan State's men's club coach the previous four seasons, as an assistant coach has mixed things up for the Grizzlies.

"His new ideas helped put a different spin on our team, a breath of fresh air we haven't seen in the last few years," she said. " I've never been so proud to play for such an amazing team and this group of girls surprises me every day. The new things people come up with, the way people work and the way we share thoughts and ideas on the field is something that makes me happy."

Hicks returns to Oakland after posting a 45-20 record as head coach of Michigan State's MCLA team. Michigan State parted ways with Hicks after the 2012 season. The former Notre Dame defenseman and midfielder previously coached Kassa as a player for Oakland and also had a stint at Eastern Michigan.

"He's like a dad to me," Kassa said. "He's all about structure and that's what he taught us."

Each of the Grizzlies signed a team contract this year the first time during Kassa's tenure. Recognizing that club lacrosse is funded largely by the players, Kassa said a club sport still needs to have rules, structure and be run like an organization.

"If we want to build a program and hopefully elevate our program from club status to varsity status, we have to be organized; we have to represent ourselves well on the field," he said.

Kassa wants the squad's new focus to take some weight off Messina's shoulders. He called her one of the hardest working players he has ever seen.

"When we need something done on the field, when we need a go-to person, she will be aggressive." he said. "She will work hard. She doesn't stop."

With two major knee injuries, a separated shoulder, a broken ankle and four broken fingers behind her, Messina hasn't stopped yet.

"I've had a lot of injuries and not one time after being injured have I thought it's time to throw in the towel," she said. "It really is because I love the game so much. I love everything about it."

Oakland midfielder Desiree Messina has suffered two major knee injuries, a separated shoulder and four broken fingers in her career. "To come back from two serious injuries to even be able to play on a college level is amazing to me," she said.
© Cecil Copeland

Tag(s): Oakland University