Janusz (24) attempts a header in ONU's 1-0 victory over Ohio Wesleyan on September 16, 2015. (photo/ ONU Sports Information)

They thought he tore his ACL.

“I planted at the top of the box to take a shot and my knee buckled,” David Janusz said. “I already had an injured ankle at that time, and my weight shifted awkwardly to the ankle. I pretty much tore all the ligaments in my ankle.”

That scare happened on October 23, 2013. Janusz, a freshman striker for the men’s soccer team at the time, suffered a season- ending ankle injury that night in a game against Heidelberg. The Polar Bears would go on to defeat Heidelberg, improving their record to 5-1 in the OAC (13-3 overall).

Now, fast forward two years.

On Tuesday night, the men’s soccer team fell to Heidelberg, 2-0. Their record dropped to 5-1 in the OAC (13-4 overall). Janusz is a starter for the team, as he was during his freshman season before the injury. He has scored six goals this season and recorded four assists, which are career-highs for the striker-turned-forward.

“David has played well this season,” head coach Brent Ridenour said. “He has been asked to play several different positions and like all of our players, he does what is needed for the team to be successful. That’s one of the main reasons why are so successful; our guys do a great job of putting the team goals first.”

While it may seem like nothing has changed, it’s what happened between his freshman and junior seasons that is crucial to Janusz’s success.

Due to the ankle injury, Janusz had to sit and watch as his teammates took the OAC crown and competed in the NCAA tournament during his freshman season.

“It was tough because I didn’t get to play in the OAC tourna- ment game or the NCAA tournament game, which I should have because I was starting at the time,” Janusz said. “I didn’t get to finish the OAC season out, and we were [on our way] to winning the conference. I was there, so I got to enjoy it, but I was disappointed in not being able to play in the actual games.”

His desire to get back on the pitch and the team’s hunger to get back to the NCAA tournament fueled Janusz in the following offseason.

“I knew I had to turn it around, and basically show what I could do now that I was back to 100 percent,” Janusz said. “Our ultimate goal is to win a national championship after we lost in 2012 in the finals. That’s what drives our team.”

Janusz returned for a solid sophomore season, playing in 20 games and starting 15. He was moved from a striker to a forward, but still managed to score five goals that season, being named 2nd-team All-OAC. The main transition when switching positions, Janusz says, is above the shoulders.

“It was a big mental change because you go from trying to score goals to facilitating the way we play,” Janusz said.

While Janusz came back strong last season, the team suffered an unfortunate break during its first OAC game. Matt Kinkopf, the team’s leading goal-scorer (then a sophomore), suffered a rib fracture in the game, which sidelined him for the rest of the season. The Bears would finish fourth in the conference.

This season, both Janusz and Kinkopf are healthy. While the Bears were defeated for the first time in OAC play on Tuesday night, they still lead the OAC because they hold the tiebreaker with John Carroll.

The team has three regular season games remaining before the conference tournament, where they will likely use their experi- ence to gain an edge. They are returning 9 of their 11 starters, and 21 of their 26 varsity lettermen from last season.

Kinkopf (currently a junior) is leading the charge for the Polar Bear offense with 11 goals so far this season, and sophomore goalie Dean McNeil is having a breakout season as well; he already has 59 saves, a 12-4 record, and 6 shutouts to his name.

When asked about the team’s goals for the rest of the season, Janusz put it simply:

“We expect to win a conference championship.”

So maybe, for Janusz and the title-hungry Polar Bears, this is a season of redemption. They are injury-free, they are experienced, and they are coming for the conference crown.

Watch out, OAC.

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