The Bulldogs’ comeback kid

WOODBRIDGE — Jonita Hooker knows what it takes to overcome adversity.

The Hylton senior forward, who missed all of last season due to injury, battled back this year to lead the Bulldogs to the Group AAA state playoffs, which begin tonight at Robinson.

Hooker, who tore her ACL, MCL, and meniscus in a club game toward the end of her sophomore year, said that experience has helped her to grow as a player.

“I feel like I’m a leader in every definition, in that I have to help the team both mentally and physically,” Hooker said. “I had to step up this year because of my knee injury — because God blessed me with the ability to get back on the field.”

And now Hooker, who went through intense two-and-a-half hour physical therapy sessions on a daily basis just to become mobile, has come back to score 15 goals in 14 games for the Bulldogs. For her standout season, though, Hooker gives a lot of credit to her teammates.

“My team helps out a lot,” Hooker said. “They understand how I play and they give me encouragement. They just connect with me — I know what they like, and they know what I like.”

Hylton coach Steve Smith, who coaches Hooker both at school and on her Cardinals’ club team, feels she has the respect of her teammates, as well as their support.

“Jonita is a great role model for our younger players,” Smith said. “She leads by example through her hard work and attitude. She’s played the whole season hurt with an injury. When she does speak up, everyone listens.”

Hooker began playing soccer when she was a little girl, following in the footsteps of her older brothers — Jermaine, now 19 and Jonathan, 21, who also play soccer (Jonathan currently plays for Radford University). She named Jonathan as probably her biggest role model, for the influence and impact he has had on her.

“I look up to him every day,” Hooker said. “I think about how proud he would be of me. He’s the hardest working soccer player I know; I just really look up to him.”

Hooker continued to play soccer throughout her younger days, and first met up with Smith at age 11 on the Cardinals.

“Jonita has evolved from an athletic soccer player to a complete player,” Smith said. “Due to her injury, she lost some speed at the beginning, and as a result, strengthened her shooting and receiving.

“Jonita’s strength is her desire and spirit,” Smith added. “She has carried the team on her back offensively, and always comes back the next game and gives her all.”

The next step for Hooker is Barton College in Wilson, N.C., where she will continue to play soccer. Hooker said she chose Barton because it seemed like a natural fit for her.

“They actually followed me around for a while,” Hooker said of her recruitment. “When I finally visited, everyone was nice. I liked the whole town and the coach was absolutely great.

“He changed my mind about the school,” said Hooker, who admitted to looking elsewhere initially. “And he made me feel comfortable. I just felt more comfortable at that school and around everyone there.”

And now, Hooker has the task of helping to propel the Bulldogs past powerhouse Robinson on the road. But it’s not like she’s never stared adversity in the face before.

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