In the words of coach Josh Campbell, the stadium erupted.
That eruption came when Morgan Krek, a senior captain forward for the Lutheran West Longhorns girls soccer team, laced the ball into the back of the net for her first goal of the season on Aug. 16 in the team’s first game of 2019.
For Krek, though, that goal meant more than an extra notch on the stat sheet. It marked a return to normalcy after a nearly two-year battle with Ewing Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, in her left femur.
“After watching a sport that I’ve played since I was three, it was definitely hard,” Krek said. “And then just getting back to it, it was like my world was coming back together. It just felt amazing that (my teammates) could be there to witness (that) moment. It just brought back so many memories.”
Coming into her sophomore season, Krek and former coach Mia Thomay thought she was dealing with a lingering leg injury. Krek continued to play through it, but she clearly wasn’t the same player she was in her standout freshman season with the varsity team.
In October 2017, Krek received her diagnosis.
“It was them just trying to figure out what was going on,” Thomay said. “Just different, conflicting reports. ‘I think it’s this injury,’ and ‘It’s kind of lingering, we think it’s this,’ and then they ended up getting some scans and found out the terrible news.”
After Krek officially received her diagnosis, the support she received from her team, classmates and the Lutheran West community boosted her spirits. She also wasted no time in rejoining her team.
Doctors told Krek she had to stay off her feet. Just days after that, however, she was back on the sidelines for a Longhorns game.
“I think the first time we saw her was maybe a couple of days (after her diagnosis),” Thomay said. “She came to one of our games in her wheelchair and the girls were so pumped. Our school itself is like a big family, but our soccer team had that culture of family. I love the environment that the girls create.”
As scary as facing the cancer diagnosis was, Krek said that she “wasn’t really worried about dying.”
“I just had it in the back of my mind that I wasn’t going to die,” Krek said. “The amount of texts and posts and messages I got were amazing. Just to know that so many people I talked to before that I was friends with but didn’t know how close, that I knew they were right behind me.”
Among the ways the community supported Krek included donations, fundraisers, prayer circles and even shirts sporting the phrase “Morgan Strong” and the bible verse Philippians 4:13, Morgan’s favorite. Campbell said teammates frequently visited her in the hospital and brought her assignments from school.
Initially, Krek said the plan was to do surgery on her leg. That would have required a complete hip replacement, however, so Krek and her doctors opted for proton radiation. After that, she completed her second round of chemotherapy before ultimately having surgery last year.
In June, Krek was officially declared cancer-free and cleared to rejoin her team.While Campbell admitted that Krek is not physically where she was before the diagnosis, he said her mindset and approach to practice and games is the same.
“When she came back, she was voted a captain for a reason. She was at every weight-lifting, every open-field. Her drive has not changed,” Campbell said. “She wants to be out there to score goals. Foot skill-wise, she’s still at the top of the team and top of her game. The speed dropped off a little bit but she’s finding other ways to be a contributor.
“I can’t stress enough, these negative things happen and people go, ‘Why?’” Campbell added. “The amount of people they’ve touched with this story, it just shows what God can do and what Morgan’s faith has done.”
On the importance of Philippians 4:13, which reads “I can do all things through him who gives me strength,” Krek said her faith was “definitely super strong.”
“The prayers and doctors and friends and family could (only) do so much,” she said. “In the end, it was in God’s hands if he wanted me to make it through or not.”
Though Krek is unsure where she will attend college or even if she will continue to play soccer, because of this experience, there is no doubt in her mind what career she wants to pursue.
“Just the way that I saw how the nurses helped with me and helped the kids that I was with, it just made me want to be a nurse,” Krek said. “I don’t want to be just any nurse, I actually want to go to the oncology floor and be a nurse on the cancer floor.”
Now, with three games left in her senior season, Krek isn’t focused on her own stats or the fluctuating record the Longhorns have had. She’s just grateful to be back on the field playing the game she loves.
“My senior season has been great,” Krek said. “I’ve gotten to make many friends, many new relationships that have helped me through so much. I’m very thankful for the girls and this year.”
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