Standing on the sideline propped up on a pair of crutches is no way to spend senior year.
Not after the three years of work and self sacrifice that Gina DeMaio and Caycie Gusman gave to the Rutgers women's soccer team. Not after the offseason of grueling rehab that Gusman went through just for a chance to take the field again for the Scarlet Knights. Not after DeMaio put herself on the brink of etching her name in the RU record books with three of the highest quality seasons of any Knights' soccer player ever.
To say the least, DeMaio and Gusman were instrumental pieces to the team that is now ranked ninth in the country. So when they both went down with season ending ACL tears earlier in the year, neither had any intention of simply calling it a career at RU and moving on.
This was still their team. As hard as it's been for DeMaio and Gusman off the field, as the Knights head into the Big East tournament this week both of them are still every bit the leader they've been for the last three years.
"We were both captains," DeMaio said. "We were both leaders on this team. So when we got hurt, we were both going to stay involved. And whether we play or not, we still view ourselves as leaders, and I think the players have been really receptive to that."
Unlike Gusman, who dealt with the same injury to the opposite knee late last season, being injured is a completely new experience for DeMaio. After sustaining the ACL tear Sept. 13 against Arizona, DeMaio is still trying to adjust to a painful and long rehab process.
"Physical therapy is basically an all day process," she said. "Even when I'm home I have exercises that I have to do. So it's still tough, especially since I've always been the person that's always going and I've always been a person who's constantly playing somewhere."
DeMaio, a Parsippany, N.J., native, had every intention of moving onto a professional soccer career after this season. Her résumé at RU, where she was poised to break the school's all-time career assists and shots records this season, was certainly strong enough to garner her an opportunity in the somen's professional soccer league.
"When the injury first happened I was so upset," DeMaio said. "The timing was just bad, because I think the chances of me being able to play professionally after this year were very good and I was looking forward to that, and, at the time, I was preparing for a professional career."
That chance should still be there when DeMaio gets healthy. But, what is really motivating her right now is the prospect of being able to once again wear scarlet and white.
Although it hasn't been made official yet, it looks very likely that both DeMaio and Gusman will be given a redshirt this season and be eligible to play next year.
"When I told Gina that it looked like a good possibility that she would get a redshirt, it was the most excited I had seen her in a long time," said RU head coach Glenn Crooks.
Gusman is still unsure if she would use her redshirt, but DeMaio is adamant about her desire to not end her college career this way.
"As tough as these situations are, you always try to search for the positive," Crooks said. "In Caycie's case it becomes more difficult to find a positive because this is her second injury in as many years, one to each knee. But she's overcome that mental part of it very well. She's a positive person, and she's the type to look on the bright side."
Gusman, who was the team's leader in points both times she tore her ACL, points to her experience last year as helping her get through the injury this season.
"It was definitely different this time," said Gusman, a native of Honolulu, Hawaii. "But actually, it was probably a lot easier because I knew what to expect. And the team has done so well, which makes it a lot easier. And it really makes it easier knowing that I can still take on that leadership role even when I'm not on the field."
Go to any women's soccer practice or game, and on a sideline scattered with players on crutches you'll see Gusman and DeMaio. Their roles have changed on the team, but ask any member of the Knights and they'll tell you that the attitude and the mentality that helped DeMaio and Gusman bring the team so much success in the first place hasn't changed a bit.
"When we bring it in for meetings or even if we're having a rough practice, me and Gina can still bring the team in and try to pick them up," Gusman said. "We'll still be right there saying, ‘Come on, let's go,' and things like that. So that really hasn't changed at all."