Stories of high school athletes missing seasons due to injury are sadly common. There are also plenty of others who missed last spring season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But for one person to miss the better part of four seasons of sports for both reasons combined? Very few could relate. One of them attends The Hopkins School in New Haven: Dylan Matchett.
“It’s been devastating. You talk about kids missing a season. Dylan has missed a year and a half of being able to compete, maybe two years,” Hopkins baseball coach and athletic director Rocco DeMaio said.
But Matchett has put a happy face on all of it despite now going through his second season without sports due to COVID. Matchett, a Milford native and resident, would have been a senior co-captain for the basketball team.
Hopkins plays in the Fairchester Athletic Association. The FAA decided in November to cancel the winter sports season. This is the third consecutive sports season the FAA has canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was expecting it. This one definitely hurts because it is my senior year, I was going to be a co-captain, be a leader for the team,” Matchett said. “I felt I was going to have a pretty good year.”
Said Hopkins boys basketball coach Ryan Errico: “I was expecting a monster year from him. He is one of the best players in the area, even despite missing his sophomore season due to injury.”
That leaves just the spring baseball season for Matchett.
So what exactly happened? In February 2018, Matchett dislocated his right knee in one of the final basketball games of his freshman season
“The trainer popped (the knee) back in place right away. He said it could keep happening or it would be a one-time thing,” Matchett said.
Matchett went to physical therapy. He was back in time for baseball season. The knee felt great, he said, for the spring and all summer long.
Fast forward to December. Matchett was now a sophomore. In basketball game No. 3 against rival Hamden Hall, Matchett made a drive to the basket in the early moments.
“When I planted, my knee completely gave out. I dislocated the knee again this time, but it was worse. It tore away from the patellar ligament,” Matchett said. “When the Hamden Hall trainer popped it back in, the pain did not go away.”
When Matchett went to the emergency room at Yale-New Haven Hospital, he received confirmation about the seriousness of the injury and that surgery was likely. When Matchett went to see Dr. Rich Diana, an orthopaedic surgeon, he also confirmed what needed to be done.
“I met with (Diana) a few times. It was either get surgery or I probably would not play again,” Matchett said. “Sports was like my outlet. I needed sports.”
Matchett had the surgery in January after the swelling went down. Basketball season was already over. So, soon, would his sophomore baseball season be as well.
In fact, Matchett missed out on helping the Hilltoppers win the FAA baseball championship, beating Hamden Hall in the final.
“I wanted everything to be out there (playing) with them. I wobbled out to the dogpile (celebration),” Matchett said.
All along, Matchett had been doing physical therapy with Jim Ronai, the owner of both Competitive Edge Sports Performance and Ronai Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine. Matchett rehabbed for eight months – all summer long, missing both travel baseball and AAU basketball as well
Ronai noted that a dislocated kneecap is one of those injuries that take a longer period of time to recover from.
“After (the surgery) made his knee function and track properly (the way it glides up and down), then you have to retrain the quadriceps,” Ronai said. “You have to re-teach the body how to produce force and absorb force. The first stage is to do it in a controlled environment, then you can get more aggressive, more game-speed scenarios. We call that functional training. You also get mentally challenged because you are afraid it will happen again. Dylan had to overcome a lot.”
Matchett returned for the start of the basketball season, but he was nowhere near 100 percent.
It took some time to get back to normal.
“Mentally, I was a train wreck. I wasn’t thinking about the game. I was thinking about the knee, hoping it wouldn’t pop out again,” Matchett said. “Then Dr Diana came to one of our games against Hamden Hall. Having him there for support, everything he did for me, gave me confidence.”
Said Errico: “By February, we started seeing his athleticism and Dylan getting back to feeling comfortable. He was a huge impact the last four-to-six weeks of the season. … It wasn’t an option for him to not do what he needed to do to get back to the player he was.”
Then it was time for the baseball season. The Hopkins team was set to fly to Orlando, Florida, in March for the team’s spring trip of games.
But before the trip could happen, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. That trip – and the entire season – were soon canceled,
“I was sad. I was looking forward to finally being able to play baseball again,” Matchett said. “I haven’t played a complete season since the eighth grade. I knew I would be so far behind in the recruiting process for both sports.”
The good news is Matchett was able to play travel baseball this summer with the Connecticut Gators and also AAU basketball with the CT Elite. The right knee, he said, did not give him any issues.”
And Matchett was able to get some college looks. He said he has a couple of Division III schools interested in allowing him to play both sports. Matchett declined to mention which ones.
“A year ago, seeing him try and run around, I thought he was done,” DeMaio said. “It wasn’t promising. He still favored his injury. He didn’t have his athleticism back. But with the time away, he worked with the trainer (Ronai) on strength and conditioning and trained with a pitching coach (Bill Assermle with the Gators). Dylan came back like a different kid. He put on muscular weight, hit 85 miles per hour on the radar gun and all of a sudden, he is dunking backwards.”
Said Ronai: “Dylan is also mentally much tougher. I’m so impressed now by his athleticism. He worked hard. He wanted more and I gave him more.”
Matchett feels he is better off for having gone through what he did. Now he is holding out hope for one final season in a Hopkins baseball uniform.
“I’m grateful for what I went through. That gave me a lot of time to focus on myself, get better and just improve as a student and, more importantly, as a person.”