Updated: Sep 20
Over the past three years, Sydney Cason has broken her arm, her hand and her thumb, but she never let that keep her from playing soccer.
“It still hits me some days like ‘I can’t believe I broke my arm that intensely,’” Cason said.
The injury left her with a 12-inch metal plate and 11 screws in her body, as well as a new mindset.
The day her arm broke, Aug. 9, 2018, was less than a year after Cason made her first big collegiate impression as a freshman out of Hendersonville High School, and she was still adjusting to the aggression of the college game that she began in August 2017.
In her second career appearance, the midfielder scored her first career goal to secure Belmont’s win against Western Carolina. Two days later, she scored her second.
By season’s end, the native Michigander tallied four career goals and started in the Bruins’ final 13 contests. After logging 1,094 minutes on the field, she also earned a spot on the Ohio Valley Conference All-Newcomer squad.
Following a promising freshman season, Cason broke her right arm in an exhibition match, a break that left her benched. Throughout her recovery, two options stood in front of her: give in to the frustration of missing her sport, or put her own ambitions aside for the sake of the squad.
She chose the latter, making the most of it by establishing another role on the team.
“I’m not the most vocal leader, but I like to lead by my ability to just have relationships with people and talk to them one-on-one,” Cason said.
The opportunity to support her teammates gave her something she missed her first year playing: a sense of peace and some perspective.
“Sometimes you get stuck in that mindset of, ‘I just want to play,’” Cason said. “Having to break my arm and spend a season in a different role opened my eyes to how sweet college soccer can be.”
Cason found out just how far her Bruins were willing to go to support her. All the way to Hendersonville, Tennessee, to be exact, 20 miles northeast of Belmont.
“They wanted to take the team bus to my neighborhood after my surgery,” Cason said. “The fact that my team was about to hop on the bus and pull up to the neighborhood, it’s just so telling of how this team is willing to do anything for each other.”
She turned down their offer, but her love for the team grew so much that after she broke her hand when a 45-pound plate crushed it — two days before the 2019 preseason, no less — Cason was determined to keep playing.
“I was mentally ready to just go,” Cason said. “Unbothered: it’s nothing as serious as my arm was.”
She returned to play 19 games and start in 15 in the fall of 2019, and with some extra hunger, the Bruins recovered from an 0-3 start in conference play by going 4-1-2 in their final seven matches.
But as Belmont finished up the regular season, she was injured again.
Cason’s thumb broke from the impact of a soccer ball during the 2019 regular-season finale against Austin Peay. She needed surgery again and had to watch her team’s OVC tournament run from home in front of the broadcast, hoping that Belmont would survive and advance.
No. 6 Belmont defeated No. 7 Austin Peay on the first day of the tournament. Then, they managed to upset No. 3 UT Martin in the quarterfinals before a semifinal victory over No. 2 Murray State.
Cason got cleared to rejoin the team in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and returned to the field with an opportunity to help the Bruins make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2008.
With the title match against No. 4 Southern Illinois at Edwardsville ending in a 0-0 deadlock after double overtime, penalty kicks were inevitable.
Head coach Heather Henson told Cason she would be fifth in the penalty kick rotation.
“I was taken aback and a little intimidated just because I was watching the tournament from my couch,” Cason said. “The fact that I hadn’t seen a minute on the field, but I can decide the outcome of this, that was pretty scary.”
But seemingly fearless, Cason delivered, sinking the penalty goal the Bruins needed for the win.
Belmont won the penalty kicks 3-2 and became the lowest-seeded tournament winner in OVC women’s soccer history. And for Cason, it resembled another piece of a story in progress.
“On the field I want to be someone that works hard and is willing to sacrifice,” Cason said. “Off the field, I hope that I translate as someone who cares relationally about people and wants to see everyone succeed and be at their best.”
Cason is not the kind to hang her head and as she traverses her final year at Belmont — she does it with gratitude.
Despite spending part of her college career off the field due to injuries, Cason doesn’t define herself by the box score stats.
“It’s not about the play time, awards or being the best on the team,” Cason said. “It’s about doing your personal best. I hope I’m someone that made my teammates feel seen.”
PHOTO: Sydney Cason on the field at E.S. Rose Park for the Bruins in the 2020 season. Belmont Athletics
This article was written by Reily Chestnut. Contributory writing by Sarah Maninger, Anna Jackson and Jessica Mattsson.