Fleming leads, comes back stronger than ever following injury

Redshirt+junior+attacker+Griffin+Fleming+%2818%29+huddles+with+teammates+during+the+team%27s+game+against+Villanova+Feb.+27+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Marquette+Athletics.%29

Redshirt junior attacker Griffin Fleming (18) huddles with teammates during the team’s game against Villanova Feb. 27 (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

Seven games, 14 goals and eight assists. It is an impressive stat line to start the season, especially considering it is coming from a player who missed the entirety of the 2020 campaign.

Redshirt junior attacker Griffin Fleming did not play at all last year due to a knee injury. It was the second time in his Marquette career that a knee injury sidelined him and forced him to miss the entire season, after he sustained a knee injury in the preseason prior to his first year in the program.

“Obviously it was pretty devastating at first, but I had the same injury my freshman year, so I kind of knew how to attack it,” Fleming said. “Best thing for me was to just kind of celebrate the little things like walking and getting the range of motion back, (and) getting off the crutches.”

Fleming also credited associate athletic trainer Aaron Doering, the training staff and his coaches for getting him back on his feet. He said the hardest part of the entire process was watching the team from the sideline knowing that he could not contribute.

“Sometimes I’d think I could be a help, but there’s just really not much I could do other than just support them and have their back,” Fleming said. “So that was probably the toughest part.”

Head coach Andrew Stimmel said battling through injuries has given Fleming a relentless mindset, and it shows on the field.

“When he’s tired, he’s the guy that’s putting in more effort,” Stimmel said. “I mean I think he just makes a lot of little plays where if you never watched a game (and) you just looked at a box score, you might think Griffin Fleming’s a really good player and all those things, but he’s got a grit about him and relentless mentality and I think that’s absolutely been built through the adversity that he’s had to go through with these injuries.”

Despite the injuries and the fact that COVID-19 has limited the team’s time together in-person, Stimmel said that the Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania native has done a great job of stepping into a leadership role.

“I think Griff has done a great job stepping into a role that’s been fairly unique,” Stimmel said. “He was out with injury last year … and then steps in during a COVID year where I think it’s pretty hard to build cachet from a leadership perspective when you’re really not around people that much.”

The redshirt junior has taken that role seriously and has been instrumental in building team chemistry. Whether it be the younger players in the program or the veterans, Fleming has made sure to establish new relationships, or rekindle old ones that he had built prior to his injury last season.

“I just think he’s been really intentional reaching out to guys whether it’s via text or call or FaceTime,” Stimmel said. “Even leading up to this year through the summer as we kind of had our season cancelled last year — in those gaps he really was building those relationships maybe when most would think it doesn’t matter and I think that’s probably been the biggest thing for him that’s built that trust from a lot of these younger classmen.”

Fleming said he feels him and his older teammates are doing a good job making the younger guys on the team feel comfortable and the underclassmen have been handling everything like a “bunch of champs.”

“Everyone struggles with their freshman year, sophomore year, it’s the two toughest years adapting from high school to college and I can’t imagine being in their shoes coming in without being able to really know their teammates,” Fleming said. “So we’ve just kind of been stressing to them that it gets better, it gets better.”

Graduate student attacker Ryan Fazio entered the program in 2017, the same year that Fleming sustained his first knee injury that forced him to miss the season. He said that before Fleming went down last year, the two were really starting to build some great chemistry back in 2019 that had them really excited for the 2020 campaign.

“We weren’t playing together too much in the beginning, but then at the end of the season we got a chance to play together and we were doing really well,” Fazio said. “So, we were looking forward to that opportunity (playing together last year), so it just broke our hearts when he went down.”

Fazio said that building that rapport back up on the field is always a work in progress, but it often comes easily.

“It’s definitely natural. I think we’re both kind of similar players in that we understand the game well and I kind of know where he’s going to be,” Fazio said. “He’s had the ball in his stick a lot more. … The more he dodges and the more I watch him, the more I know when he’s going to be looking to feed and get in those spots and I think we’ve had success and hopefully we can keep that up.”

Through adversity, challenges and everything in between, Fazio said that one of things that impresses him the most about Fleming is the fact that he leaves it all on the field day in and day out.

“He just battles man, like seriously,” Fazio said. “He finishes games and he drives us to the field, and I’ll have to take the keys and go pick up the car because he can’t walk after a game. Like this kid, you take off his shirt (and) he’s just red all over, he just puts everything he can on the field. Just the confidence and the spirit to do that after what he’s gone through with injuries is awesome to see.”

In what will be his final season with the team, Fleming said the injuries have taught him to value every moment and he has carried that mindset into 2021.

“For me it’s kind of just not taking any moment for granted. I mean I want to go out there every day, every game and know that I left it all out there and leave the field knowing that I have no regrets,” Fleming said. “This is my last go at it and my last time playing against some of these opponents, so I want them to kind of remember me and remember my team and know that we kind of gave it our all.”

This story was written by Nick Galle. He can be reached at nicholas.galle@marquette.edu or on Twitter @thenickgalle.