Near-tragedy carries new purpose for WVU's Everrett

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Nine months ago, an accident that nearly claimed her father's life sent Deana Everrett across the bleak winter landscape that separates the hills of West Virginia from her Canadian home on the shores of Lake Ontario. And even as the daylight faded during the longest drive of her life, what awaited her remained less easily discerned than waypoints in the gathering dusk.

Perhaps to a greater degree than most sports, soccer lends itself to shocking suddenness. One pass, one run, one goal -- maybe no more than 15 seconds of skill and good fortune -- can derail even the most careful planning and erase an hour or more of execution. The only catch is that the uncertainty exists only in neatly scheduled 90-minute blocks. Matters are less tidy off the field, where the clock never resets for a new game. All day, every day, any perceived sense of control can vanish in the blink of an eye.

Or in Everrett's case, one morning in her apartment, it vanished with a ring of the phone.

"It was one of those phone calls that you never want to get because I just had no idea what the outcome was going to be, just what the heck was going on," Everrett said. "My uncle had no information really to give me besides my dad had been in a car accident. So I was immediately scared and panicky. My boyfriend [former West Virginia and current Chicago Fire goalkeeper Nick Noble] happened to be over at the time, in town, and so we just got in the car and drove home and went straight to the hospital."

And yet, out of those initial seconds of panic that stretched into weeks of uncertainty at home, Everrett emerged not merely intact but possessed of a refined purpose. Most daughters would have made the trip she made that January morning, but it's distinctly as her father's daughter that she now wants to follow a path in occupational therapy after having watched others help the person who always had been there for her.

"My dad is an extremely good listener, and he's very good at giving advice," Everrett said. "And that is his profession -- he's a therapist, so that's kind of fitting. But my dad was always somebody that I could go talk to; my dad and I have always been very close. My mom as well, but my dad's a particularly good listener and very good at giving advice."

A senior psychology major at the University of West Virginia, Everrett is third all-time in goals, in striking distance of second. Tremendous speed makes her a constant threat to slip behind defenders who commit even half a misstep, and a soft finishing touch makes them pay for their errors. But for all her goal-scoring exploits, she's equally comfortable slotting a pass to an open teammate while an opponent's back line is still scrambling to track her down. Even as a relatively lithe 5-foot-5 forward, she has the ability to control the field.

But control was a commodity in short supply during the six-hour ride home to Oakville, Ontario, in January. Her older sister, Vanessa, who lives close to the family's Ontario home, got to the hospital first and relayed any updates she could to Everett and Noble, but when they arrived at the hospital, proximity didn't provide many concrete answers. In addition to a variety of broken bones, John Everrett had sustained a brain injury in the accident.

"With brain injuries, it's really unpredictable," Everrett said. "So the doctors can tell you, 'We think this is going to happen, but we're not really sure.' The main thing was that he was stable when I got there, which was a really good sign."

Everrett stayed in Canada for several weeks while her father remained in the hospital with an uncertain prognosis. Only when he was moved out of the intensive care unit did she decide to return to Morgantown. Even then the decision to depart was, she said, the toughest of her life.

Back on campus, she stayed updated on developments at the hospital, directly calling the nurses who had come to know her over the preceding weeks for updates at all hours, not wanting to interrupt what little rest her mother was able to find. It's perhaps such anecdotes of self-reliance that offer the best glimpse of a softly stoic personality, a commendable trait with the limitations she was forced to confront. As a rising senior captain on a team that won its first Big East tournament title in 2007 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament for the first time, she had plenty of soccer responsibilities during the spring season. The same went for catching up on the academic work she missed while home. All of which added up to a long few months.

"When you go through something like that, it's just very emotionally draining," Everrett said. "Before, if I was going through a hard time, if I was going through a hard practice or I had to study for a tough test, I had really good emotional control and my mental capacity to be able to do those things, just to be able to grind it out. And when you're really emotionally drained, it's a little bit tougher to do that. So that was one of the things I found as being pretty difficult. I felt drained, just really drained."

After making it through the spring semester -- partly by opening up more, even to her longtime friends, such as teammate and fellow Oakville product Amanda Cicchini -- Everrett returned to Canada to spend the summer with her father. John had been released from the hospital and was recuperating at home, and it was during those months that Everrett gained an interest in physical therapy as a result of the treatment he needed.

You definitely want to focus on your family, but you can't become obsessed with focusing on something like that. You have to maintain balance in your life.

--Deana Everrett

"Before anything like this happened, I wanted to get into social work or therapy like my dad does," Everrett said. "My dad and I are very similar, so I've always been really interested in that and that's always been something I wanted to do. And my dad has an occupational therapist and [physical therapist] that come to the house, so I shadowed them a little bit over the summer. I did all the rehab stuff with them and I loved it -- the occupational therapy, especially."

While her father's recovery is a long-term proposition, he was doing well enough by the end of the summer that Everrett felt she could leave to finish the undergraduate work she needs to follow up on her summer discovery. And as has been the case throughout her career, both John and her mother, Mary, have made it to many of her games, including a season-opening tournament at Notre Dame in late August and the team's 3-0 upset win against Virginia on Sept. 21.

"He's progressed so much now that I really feel like that time that I spent with him was very, very critical for me to be able to come back and be comfortable being away from my family," Everett said. "I'm in a good place now."

Even if it's not the same place she was before the phone rang that January morning.

It's hard to imagine there wouldn't be at least an opportunity for a player with Everrett's attacking skills to find a home as a prospect in the new professional league, yet in talking about that option, her train of thought wanders to her desire to get started on her master's degree in physical therapy. Ultimately, whether her soccer career ends in a few months or a few years, change is coming in Everrett's life. And after a life-changing year for her family, she's all right with that.

"You definitely want to focus on your family, but you can't become obsessed with focusing on something like that," Everrett said. "You have to maintain balance in your life. One of my biggest things was I got scared that things were going to happen to the rest of my family and things were going to happen to [my father]. And I got all nervous.

"I had never really worried about things like that before because I hadn't dealt with anything like that, so I wasn't really scared that anything was going to happen. And for a while, there I was. But you just have to kind of realize it's life, and life goes on and you need to still go about your everyday activities. But you do take more time to give to your family, and you start putting things in a new light."

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.