It was only fitting that Aja Mandrell’s tying goal in Quartz Hill High’s 1-1 tie Jan. 26 with Golden League rival Highland came with her left foot. To that point, one of the Rebels’ best offensive weapons had been nearly nonexistent, thanks to a fluke injury suffered during club soccer last fall. Mandrell believed she had an ingrown nail on her left big toe. She soon discovered there was a non-malignant tumor pushing up on the nail, and she needed surgery to have it removed. With teammate Shannon Cox already recovering from surgery – she had a 14-inch rod placed in her shin after suffering broken a fibula and tibia playing indoor soccer last May – Quartz Hill’s offense found itself missing two crucial components before the season started. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card “At first, the doctors made it seem like I was going to be out for a day or two,” said Mandrell, a senior forward. “Then it turned into a week. By the time it was all over, it was most of the preseason.” Without the two stars, the Rebels struggled to consistently score goals during their preleague schedule. “When I was injured, I didn’t want to baby myself, because that’s the worst thing I could do,” said Mandrell, who made her season debut in Quartz Hill’s 2-1 loss Jan. 6 to Highland. “As a captain, missing that bonding period (in preseason) and not being able to lead the team was hard. But not playing was a killer to me.” Said Cox: “I can’t say I’ve felt sorry for (our situation). It just took us a little longer to mesh, and we just accepted it for what it was and moved on.” Although Cox and Mandrell don’t claim to be at 100 percent, their presence and energy has sparked the Rebels (10-5-3, 6-1-2) to an eight-game unbeaten streak – heading into Wednesday’s match at Knight – since the loss to Highland (17-2-3, 7-0-1). “I think it’s made a big difference,” Cox said. “We both play important positions, and we both try to get the other players involved in the offense. We’ve played together for three years, so that helped our chemistry fall back into place.” Although Quartz Hill lost to Highland – only its third setback in 91 league games since 1998 – with Mandrell back on the field, it told veteran coach Maury Cauchon and the Rebels they could compete with the defending league champion. “That was a huge game for us,” said Cox, who scored Quartz Hill’s lone goal against the Bulldogs on a second-half penalty kick. “Aja’s a captain, and we all felt better when she was out there. It made me feel more comfortable, and I left that game feeling better about the direction of our team.” Quartz Hill continued to build on its momentum with a 1-1 tie Jan. 13 against Lancaster (16-1-3, 7-0-1), although Mandrell didn’t play because she was on a college recruiting trip to Chico State. She hopes to be a factor for the Rebels when they play Friday at Lancaster at 6 p.m. “I feel like I have more to prove because I wasn’t there the first time,” said Mandrell, who also is considering Baylor, Portland State and Wright State. “We have to get up for this game as much as we get up for Highland.” Mandrell said scoring an important goal against Highland made her feel for the first time this season that she had made an impact in Quartz Hill’s success. “I was really nervous to come back and not live up to my potential,” said Mandrell, who shares team captain responsibilities with Kelsey Banks. “I was scared I wasn’t going to be able to perform at the level I expected from myself. It definitely felt good to come back and play like that.” A victory over Lancaster would be another step forward for Mandrell and Cox, who have made the most out of a potentially disastrous situation. “They’ve both really stepped up for us,” Cauchon said. “Obviously, we weren’t the same team without them, but since they’ve come back, we keep improving as we go.” Said Mandrell: “At Quartz Hill, we’re known for winning, and the pressure is on people like me and Kelsey and Shannon to make things happen. … If we can go out big, then it’ll be a good year.” Erik Boal, (818) 713-3607 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!