Her Last Leg


ess Chandler screamed like she never had before.

Seconds after pivoting her foot inside the eight-meter arc and being pushed to the ground by Boston University midfielder Kaitlin Belval, the Boston College lacrosse attacker shouted in uncontrollable pain, cradling her knee.

Everyone else on the field knew what had happened, as did her parents, David and Jerrie. Without hesitation, the two hopped the fence bordering the Newton Campus Lacrosse Field and sprinted alongside the team’s medical trainer, Mercedes Cunningham. Overwhelmed with concern, they reached their daughter, only to hear the words, “Mr. and Mrs. Chandler, please take a step back.”

Cunningham approached Tess, who immediately blurted out one of the most gut-wrenching phrases in all of sports.

“I heard it, I heard it pop. I heard it.”

Cunningham told her to take a breath, but the trainer had already confirmed her suspicion: Tess had torn her ACL. Not only that, but she later determined that Tess had sprained her MCL, torn her meniscus, and bruised her femur. The 6-foot dodger was carried off the field knowing very well that, four games into her senior season, her lacrosse career could be over.

Her teammates couldn’t bear to watch as their two-time captain’s season withered away before it really even began. Kate Weeks and co-captain Mary Kate O’Neill fought back tears for the rest of the game, edging BU in the second half to preserve the Eagles’ undefeated non-conference mark. But the loss of their leader broke them. Minutes later, the two sobbed alone in the team van on their way back to main campus.

“Without a doubt, when Tess tore her ACL, that was by far the worst athletic day I’ve ever had,” Weeks said.

After four years and 63 games, the girls’ run was over—they thought they were never going to play with Tess again, at least not at the collegiate level.

The senior was one year removed from recording a career-high 30 goals and was off to the best season start of her career—she logged 16 points in the first week and a half of the season, including eight in the opener against Holy Cross. But it didn’t matter.

For the first time in her life, Tess Chandler headed to the sideline without a timetable for return. At the absolute worst time possible, she was entering uncharted territory.

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hroughout her childhood, Chandler juggled one sport each season: volleyball, basketball, and lacrosse. And, according to Hopkinton (Mass.) High School lacrosse coach Jodi Dolan, she could have gone Division I in all three of them.

“I just retired after 17 years, and she’s hands-down the best lacrosse player I ever coached, and probably one of Hopkinton’s best athletes,” Dolan said.

The longtime coach is a pretty credible source. Not only was she a two-sport letterman at Tufts, but she’s also known Chandler since she was in third grade. Dolan volunteered at the youth level for 25-plus years, coaching Hopkinton’s best young lacrosse talent. For a long time, her high school teams were competitive, but never championship caliber. Everything changed the year girls like Chandler and Brooke Rudden joined the program.

One day, Dolan turned to the group of third- and fourth-graders and asked them what year it’d be by the time they were all sophomores and juniors at Hopkinton High. After doing the math in their heads, the kids collectively replied, “2011.” Dolan called her shot. She promised, right then and there, that the aforementioned date would be when they’d guide Hopkinton to its first Division II state title.

Following four straight South Section Finals losses, the Hillers got over the hump and defeated Winchester, 18-15, in large part thanks to Chandler, who scored a team-leading seven goals. Prior to the game, all eyes were on Rudden—after all, the senior captain entered the contest with 100 goals on the year, and after tallying four more in the championship, eclipsed the 250-mark for her career. In that moment, Chandler was the best player on the field, and everyone took notice, including then-BC head coach Bowen Holden.

From that point forward, Chandler had a target on her back. She was a state champion, an established offensive threat, and a BC recruit. But the extra attention didn’t stop her from setting the school scoring record or being elected captain her senior year.

Dolan used all 6-feet of her superstar in every which way, frequently posting her up near the net, just like she was still on the court. Because of her height advantage, Chandler could catch the ball, land, turn, and score in one fluid motion, making her practically unguardable. She rarely spent a minute on the bench. In fact, the only thing stopping Chandler from playing was the trainers themselves.

During her senior year, Chandler sustained an ankle injury in the tail end of her basketball season—one that would linger into the spring, forcing her to miss a lacrosse game here and there. Otherwise injury-free, the time off gave her a taste of what it was like to be on the sidelines. Little did she know that four years later, she’d be back again, only this time she couldn’t play through the pain.

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agles head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein, who suffered an ACL tear of her own back in the day, told Chandler that she had 24 hours to be upset about the injury—after that, she had to find her new role on the team. Unfortunately, that quick of a turnaround was impossible, not because Chandler couldn’t put her ACL in the rearview mirror, but because she wasn’t even in the same state as her teammates.

Days after playing BU, BC departed for a two-game road trip, leaving Chandler at home with a huge chunk of her support system out of reach. Her teammates sent her letters, which were much appreciated, but the feeling wasn’t the same. Less than a week into recovery, and Chandler was already craving the sport of her childhood.  

“You don’t appreciate the sport until it’s literally taken away from you for a year,” she said.

It was just the start of a long road back—well not exactly.

Chandler had to do six weeks of prehab before she could even get surgery. Since she had a significant amount of swelling from the tear, doctors needed her MCL to scar and heal before they could reconstruct the ACL. In order to expedite the process, Cunningham helped Chandler generate quad motion, thereby pulling the swelling out.

After the operation, the real fun started: one hour of intensive rehab, every day of the week for the next month, followed by another five months of two-hour sessions. Serving as both her emotional supporter and her medical trainer, Cunningham began guiding Chandler through the process of both regaining range of motion and, eventually, strengthening her entire leg.

An inevitable conversation eased the initial pain: Walker-Weinstein offered Chandler a redshirt, giving her the opportunity to use her fifth year of eligibility for the 2018 season. Deep down, Chandler’s teammates, namely Weeks, knew that she would return for one more year on the Heights, but the decision wasn’t that easy. She’d be coming back to BC without her graduating class and would have to pursue a master’s degree—a career path that sounds even less appealing to a second semester senior.

Chandler talked to her teammates, family, and, of course, her old high school coach. Dolan conceded that completing her rehab in time for the coming year would be an ordeal, but, above all else, she pointed out that there’s no reason to be so anxious to grow up.

“You only get this opportunity once,” she said. “Once you’re an adult, you can play pickup lacrosse or get involved in leagues, but this team that’s created for you in this venue of high-level lacrosse, is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity.”

As expected, Chandler took it.

“She got a do-over, and that’s pretty awesome,” Jerrie said.

[aesop_quote type=”block” background=”#800000″ text=”#ffffff” width=”100%” align=”center” size=”2″ quote=”“You don’t appreciate the sport until it’s literally taken away from you for a year."” cite=”– Tess Chandler” parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]


ll her career, Chandler had been a quiet leader.

If someone was out of line, she’d take the necessary measures to pull them aside and right their wrong. But for the most part, she let her actions do the talking. By her senior year, Chandler was the good cop to Weeks’ bad cop, holding the team together with her calming sense of self.

But when she tore her ACL, she had to make a change, or else she could have very well made a home for herself on the end of the bench—and there was no way she was going to let that happen. Gradually, Chandler started to voice her opinions on the sideline.

Of course, there’s something odd about critiquing the play of your teammates. At least she thought so, as would most. They’re the same girls she was running up and down the field with just a few weeks prior. Yet, soon enough, Chandler’s teammates came to her and pleaded for her thoughts—they wanted to know what she had to say.

In her mind, that was her right of passage. It wasn’t long before Chandler was watching film and giving players pointers, finding that new role Walker-Weinstein wanted her to have: assistant coach. As the season progressed and her rehab unfolded, she kept coming to practice with the mindset that she was still very much part of the team. There was no doubt that her teammates thought so too.

“We couldn’t have made it to the National Championship without Tess,” Weeks said.

Chandler was a motivator and a teacher, but more than anything, she was a supporter. During the heart of the Eagles’ postseason push, emotions were running higher than ever before. When things got out of control, she kept everything in check, just as if she was on the field.

Weeks distinctly remembers going to Chandler on the sideline to unload her mid-game anxiety. Even when Weeks was on her game, stringing together a handful of goals, Chandler would always give her the same look, signaling, “Hey, you’re not done yet.”

Just like the rest of the team, albeit in a different way, Chandler came into her own down the stretch, as BC booked its first trip to both the Final Four and National Championship. Although the Eagles lost to undefeated No. 1 Maryland in the title game, Chandler affirms that the tournament run was one to remember—the best part was, she was coming back for one more ride.  

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ebruary is over, and Chandler has already played more games than she did all of last year. In her season debut, she scored against No. 15 Notre Dame. One week later, she stripped Belval, the same girl that cut Chandler’s season short just a year ago. Day by day, the redshirt senior is getting back to where she once was.

But she’ll never be the same.

The brace on her left leg is a constant reminder of what she had to go through to get back on the field, not to mention her corresponding limitations. She’s no longer a dodger nor a go-to option on the offensive end of the field. Since suffering her injury, Sam Apuzzo and Kaileen Hart have blossomed into two of the nation’s top three scorers. Now, her role lies in the middle of the attack. An inside scorer, her job is to fight through contact and catch and shoot at will from inside the eight—an art that her best friend perfected.

“I want to be like Kate Weeks,” she said confidently.

Weeks, who racked up 76 goals and 106 total points last season, knows that Chandler will peak when it matters most—the games against the Southern Californias and North Carolinas of the world. At the moment, she just has to be patient. Compared to the kind of wait she had just to get a stick back in her hand, this one’s hardly a nuisance. Besides, she’s back with her teammates and stronger than ever—maybe not physically, but mentally.

“Once you you’ve done this, and you’ve rehabbed and come back to play D1, you can do anything,” her mother said.

Chandler developed as an on-the-field leader as a junior and as an off-the-field leader as a senior. A third-year captain, she’s been through it all. But there are no more do-overs from here on out—she’s on her last leg.

Featured Image by Julianna Glafkides / Heights Staff

Photos by Julia Hopkins / Heights Senior Staff and Courtesy of Jerrie Chandler

Andy Backstrom

Andy served as the sports editor and managing editor of The Heights, wrote over 450 articles, covered hundreds of Boston College sporting events, and made lifelong friends in McElroy 113. Like what you see? Follow him on Twitter @andybackstrom.

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