After 1,029 Days on the Sidelines, Rachel Ziemba is Back for Richmond


Rachel Ziemba’s first full season playing college lacrosse, she admits, will also probably be her last. 

The Richmond attacker broke onto the scene as a freshman in 2018, but a brutal ACL tear forced her to spend the next 1,029 days on the sidelines, watching as the Spiders put together some of their best seasons in program history.

After more than two years of recovery, it’s finally Ziemba’s time again, and as she enters her final season in Richmond, she’s all about making the most of each moment — and tallying a few points along the way.

Ziemba scored three goals and added an assist in No. 10 Richmond’s season-opening 19-10 win over Radford on Sunday. It was her first game active in a Spiders uniform since April 22, 2018.

“I told myself I was ready to play, and I’ve worked hard enough for this,” Ziemba said. “I was just going to do whatever we needed to get the win and contribute, and that’s how it ended up going, so I’m really grateful that I was able to get some points.”

A Christian Brothers Academy (N.Y.) alum, Ziemba arrived in Richmond ready to make an impact. She missed the first 10 games of her freshman season with a minor injury, but once she was back and healthy, she scored six goals and added 10 assists in six games, enough to earn a spot on the Atlantic 10’s All-Rookie team.

Ziemba scored a goal and dished out two assists for the Spiders against La Salle on that April afternoon in 2018, in what would prove to be her last game before an involuntary hiatus. She tore her ACL that spring, and with two ACL tears in high school already under her belt, a different, longer and tougher road back was in store.

As Richmond made a run to the NCAA tournament in 2019 and dashed to a 7-0 start in 2020, Ziemba focused on her recovery and gained a new perspective from the sidelines. She couldn’t run for a year after surgery, so she spent her time split between physical therapy and shadowing coaches from the sidelines. She even spent one plane ride home from a road trip next to an assistant coach, learning how to cut film.

She was planning on returning to the field in 2020, but the pandemic offseason allowed her even more time to recover and come back stronger. When the Spiders lined up against the Highlanders last weekend — 345 days since they’d last taken the field, and even longer since Ziemba had been on it with them — the comeback felt even sweeter.

“The way I see it is that I’ve been watching my favorite players for the past two years, and now it’s a dream come true to be able to play with them, alongside them,” she said. “I’m really grateful to be back and to be able to have success with them.”

Ziemba fit seamlessly into Richmond’s offense against Radford, assisting redshirt-senior Sam Geiersbach from behind the cage on the second possession of the game and scoring on her own from the eight-meter arc two minutes later.

The Spiders’ next test will likely be their biggest of the regular season, a matchup against No. 18 Virginia on Friday. Richmond took down the Cavaliers in overtime last season, the first win over their in-state rivals in 14 years, and while the Spiders own the higher ranking this time around, it’s still sure to be an exciting matchup.

Two years, nine months and 23 days away from the field taught Ziemba to appreciate and savor every game, play and experience. Whatever the rest of her final season at the college level has in store, she’ll be cherishing it.

“I’ve been playing since I was in third grade and just looking back on everything the sport has given me, everything I’ve learned and how I’ve grown as a person, I’m really trying to give back this season,” she said. “I’m having fun with the playing part and I love to compete, but I also feel like my greater purpose is to leave this program with a great foundation to keep climbing up those ranks in the future.”

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