Two Years Off From Injury Changed Fordham's Rachel Hubertus
Rachel Hubertus' impressive season in 2021 was not always guaranteed.
For the Fordham slugger, it was her first action in nearly two years as she returned from a devastating knee injury sustained in April of 2019. Hubertus, who hit .338 with 13 home runs and 54 RBI in 2021, helped the Rams make a run at another Atlantic 10 title before ultimately falling short.
The injury would begin an 18-month rehab that she described as mentally taxing, as she watched her teammates play while she looked on. But as she tells Softball America, it was something that she needed to experience in order to help her become a better teammate.
"I don't know if it was like depression that I got into, but it's really mentally taxing, and I think for me, that was really hard," Hubertus said. "But at the same time, it was something I needed. (I needed) to grow up a little bit and become a better teammate."
And Hubertus' recovery was even longer than originally anticipated.
"The mental side of rehab (was tough), and then obviously COVID hit after about nine, 10 months, and I had to wait to play softball for another whole year," Hubertus added. "That was a big hit to me, but honestly, it was a blessing in disguise."
While being sidelined with the injury, she still had a significant impact on her teammates. Fordham head coach Melissa Inouye tells Softball America that Hubertus has a coach's personality, and believes she should go into coaching once her playing career is over.
Graduate student Brianna Pinto noticed Hubertus' impact off the field during the Rams' run to the 2019 A10 Championship, and how her presence helped the team during that time.
"She was going through such a hard thing herself, and the fact that she was still able to show up every day and be supportive of all of us when she was yearning to be on the field was so amazing," Pinto said. "I also think that just shows how much she does love the game and how she deserves to still stay in it after college. I think she would be a great coach."
After being cleared, she and Coach Inouye discussed her usage and potential to be a DH during the 2020 season. However, due to COVID and having another fall season to get better, Inouye put her back at first base in 2021.
"Once, from a physicality standpoint, she was good to go, then we said okay," Inouye said. "The main thing was just making sure that she physically could handle being back on the field, hitting, running, all of that… She's definitely someone we need on the field for vocal leadership and softball IQ-wise too."
Hubertus admits that due to the severity of her injury, she's not mentally over it, and at times, her knee still bothers her. But she says just playing and talking to her teammates helps her get through those days.
After nearly 18 months of rehabbing, Hubertus was the only Ram to play every game in 2021, which she admits surprised her. She played a significant role in Fordham's success and run to the A10 Tournament last spring, tying for 23rd in the nation in RBI.
Inouye says that Hubertus excels at hitting pitches out of the strike zone and waits for the right pitch to hit, which has led to her success. Her presence in the lineup has helped her teammates get better pitches to hit.
"Just knowing that we can rely on each other was such a huge thing," Pinto said. "I think we all bounced off each other's success because we were relying on the other person. (Rachel) did a great job. Every time I'm on base, I'm like, 'Oh, she's getting me in.' The fact that she has such a confidence in the box gives you confidence."
The last 18 months changed Hubertus not just with her play on the field, but also as a teammate and friend off of it. Now fully healthy, she wants to help Fordham win the A10 once again.
"I think I came out of it a better teammate and a better leader," she said. "I kind of saw things from the other side. If it was the coaching side or just looking in on the team, I just kind of noticed, 'Oh, this is how this person does this, and this is how this looks when this happens.' So, I think that definitely changed me."