Sammie Dales began attending Gannon University women’s soccer games when she was about 11 years old. She thought it was “the coolest thing ever” when the announcer called the players’ names before games and after goals. She dreamed of being one of those players.
She never dreamed, though, that she would endure multiple knee surgeries, countless hours of rehab and three lost seasons before she would finally achieve this.
Injury strikes three times
Sammie Dales first met Gannon women’s soccer coach Colin Petersen ’01 as her Erie Admirals youth team coach. That’s when she began attending the Golden Knights’ games.
The Conneautville resident was homeschooled for all 12 years of her education by her mother, Lori, who is a Gannon employee. She played first for the Admirals and then joined the Beadling Soccer Club, a Pittsburgh-area travel team.
Dales faced her first bout of adversity at 15 after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. She underwent surgery and about six months of rehabilitation before returning for her freshman club season. She played at Conneaut Area Senior High as a sophomore, then for Beadling her final three club seasons. As she hoped, Dales was recruited by Petersen to compete for Gannon.
Then the unthinkable happened.
During spring season her senior year, she suffered a torn ACL– this time in her right knee. Dales was aware of what she would face. She knew that post-surgery ACL rehab would take at least six months.
“… there was no way I was going to make it back for the season,” she recalled thinking immediately.
Her first season at Gannon was lost before she even made it onto campus. That was only the beginning of Dales’ trials during her college career.
It was not long after she was finally able to return to off-season training in early 2020 that the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Workouts were halted and the fall season was canceled.
When the pandemic eased, Gannon scheduled several games in Spring 2021. Dales’ knee was strong and she was finally ready to take the field as a Golden Knight. Then, while practicing before the first game, she took a shot, collapsed and experienced a familiar, agonizing feeling in her left knee.
“At first I started kind of laughing, and then the pain hit,” she recalled.
She then began a somber ritual. It was a third ACL tear, and this time she underwent a two-step surgery. This extended her recovery time forcing her to lose both the spring and entire 2021 fall season, too.
Undaunted, she started yet another comeback.
“She’s a much stronger person than I am; So many injuries. You've got to tip your hat to her. SHe just loves soccer. Her drive to come back, you can just see it.”
- Colin Petersen
Dales reaches her goal
Dales entered the 2022-23 school year as a senior academically but was listed under “Newcomers” in the team’s season preview where Petersen wrote: “Cannot wait for her to play. She deserves so much.”
Dales finally made her debut in Gannon uniform, a moment she described “was like a dream.”
She played in the team’s first five games and recorded her first assist during a 1-0 win over Slippery Rock in August. Her most memorable moments, though, took place in the home game against Clarion in September.
At the 63:32 mark of a scoreless game, she lofted a corner kick toward the goal and earned an assist after teammate Leah Bermudez headed the ball into the net. Just over two minutes later, Sarah Fails ripped a shot off the Clarion goalie, and Dales followed with a left-footed kick past the keeper into the net – a fitting triumph over the two surgeries that knee sustained.
It set off a celebration as she finally heard “Sammie Dales” over the loudspeakers of McConnell Family Stadium. She achieved her dream as an 11-year-old fan.
“It was just kind of a whirlwind,” she reminisced. “I heard everybody getting excited. … There were so many people shouting to me after the goal – from the bench, from the field.”
Jordan August, Gannon goalie who played with Dales at Beadling, savored watching her friend score.
“She’s had a really tough time the past couple years. So, I was happy to see her shine,” August said. “She’s always worked so hard, and she’s always been positive no matter what she’s been through … even when she wasn’t playing, she was always there supporting everyone.”
Dales’ parents, Lori and Rich, were at the game to witness.
“Rich and I were so excited after she got her goal… it was just extremely uplifting to know that everybody else was as happy about it as we were.”
- Lori Dales
Dales stays optimistic, focused
Through the knee surgeries and the grueling rehabilitation, Sammie kept her resolute attitude, which she attributes to her parents.
Her mother was her teacher and main caretaker through the surgeries and rehabs. While her father always worked with her to develop her skills, like practicing “everything with my left leg just as much as I had with my right,” she recalled.
So, it was only fitting that she scored using the leg where her knee was twice repaired.
“She has such a determined spirit and she has never questioned once whether she was coming back,” Lori said. “She’s always prayed about it. She has that faith in God. We’ve talked about quitting, and we’ve asked, ‘Is this God telling us it’s time to stop?’ We’ve prayed about it as a family.”
Dales has three years of eligibility remaining due to her injuries and the pandemic. She’s enrolled in Gannon’s graduate physical therapy program, and while she has three years to complete it, she’s unsure how many will also be spent competing.
Her desire to become a physical therapist was kindled by her experience after her first surgery.
“Her first physical therapist was just a wonderful mentor to her … she loved the atmosphere and what he did to help her. She just saw it as doing something meaningful,” Lori said.
Sammie Dales’ desire to play soccer hasn’t wavered, but she’s realistic about her future and knows that another injury would likely end her soccer days.
“If I do it again, I can’t come back; they can’t do any more surgeries,” she said. “So, it’s my last chance. Every time I get on the field, it could be the last time. So, every time I’m out there I just want to play as well as I can.”
Gannon won the PSAC West regular-season title and placed second in the PSAC Tournament. As Gannon prepared to host NCAA Atlantic Regional games on Nov. 11, Dales ranked second on the team with six assists while helping the Golden Knights to a 14-3-4 record.
By Jeff Kirik, assistant director of athletics media relation