Ember Temple file photo

West Lauderdale’s Ember Temple takes possession of the ball during the Lady Knights’ home game against Choctaw Central in early December.

The only thing Ember Temple really notices anymore is the knee brace.

In July 2019, Temple was playing alongside her Lady Knight teammates in a scrimmage at the annual Meridian Community College soccer camp. She suffered a torn ACL in her right leg during the exhibition match, forcing one of West Lauderdale’s go-to scorers to miss her entire junior season.

It took until the following summer before Temple was cleared to go full speed, but by the time her senior season started, the injury was a distant memory. So far this winter, Temple has scored 24 goals for the Lady Knights, and she said she doesn’t feel any pain in her right leg anymore.

“When I first started back my knee would hurt because I wasn’t going to the gym and working my leg out like I should,” Temple said. “Now that I am, it doesn’t feel bad other than the brace constantly sliding down my leg.”

Having played soccer her whole life, Temple said it’s nice to be back in a regular routine as opposed to a rehab routine.

“It feels amazing, like I have my life back,” Temple said. “It feels like I’m a lot happier since I can play with people I love all the time.”

West Lauderdale girls soccer coach Alex George said adding Temple back to the starting lineup this season was obviously huge for his team’s scoring ability, especially after losing six players from last year’s team due to graduation.

“She’s been phenomenal,” George said. “To have her back in the attacking third of the field has made such a huge difference. You can’t quantify her speed — she’s been blessed with it. She’s a scoring machine, so she’s definitely someone we’ve welcomed back.”

Players sometimes struggle with the mental aspect of coming back from an injury as serious as a torn ACL. Temple’s approach has been to trust the work she did in rehab and not worry about re-injury.

“I just think of it as, I can’t let it hold me back,” Temple said. “If I do, I won’t be able to be there for my teammates like I should. If I get hurt again, there’s nothing I can do about it. I just have to play my game.”

The Lady Knights are aiming for their fifth state title in six seasons, and Temple said this year’s team is more than capable of carrying the torch from years past.

“We obviously lost some very good players, so we were a little out of it at first and didn’t know what to do,” Temple said. “A lot of people had to step up, and we’ve gotten through it, and it made us a better team and made us a lot closer.”

George said he thinks Temple has improved as a player even after taking a year off from games.

“Honestly, I think she rehabbed so hard that she’s better than she was the year before last,” George said. “Her stamina and strength is remarkable. To come back from an injury like that can sometimes be a question mark, but I think Ember has not only overcome it but exceed beyond what she or I expected. This being her senior year, they all want to go on another run for a state title, and she’s been a really good leader and extremely focused on the field.”

Following this season, Temple said she’ll play travel soccer as she prepares for her college career at Southern Miss. She committed to the Golden Eagles in late November and will join fellow West Lauderdale senior Alice Williamson in Hattiesburg to continue their soccer careers. The family atmosphere plus the chance to keep playing alongside Williamson sold Temple on Southern Miss.

“I couldn’t meet with them in person, but on Zoom I met with some of them, and they made me feel very welcomed,” Temple said. “They were all super close since they had been playing together their whole life, and they made me feel immediately like part of the family.”

In the meantime, Temple said she wants to make sure she stays in shape after the Lady Knights’ season has concluded.

“I definitely want to continue getting in the gym and getting stronger so that I won’t re-injure myself hopefully,” Temple said. “I’m just trying to stay in shape, and playing (travel soccer) in the spring will hopefully keep me in my routine.”

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