Forward rebounds from ACL tear
She tried to convince Rutgers head women's soccer coach Glenn Crooks that the pop she heard in her knee was nothing, that she could play through it and wrap it regularly, but forward Jonelle Filigno knew the injury she suffered just seven minutes into her first scrimmage was anything but temporary.
The Scarlet Knights lost Filigno, a talented freshman striker from Ontario, Canada, to an ACL tear in August 2009, leaving the former Team Canada U-20 Player of the Year in uncharted territory.
"I've never had anything major [injury-wise], so I didn't know what it was," said Filigno, The Daily Targum's Comeback Player of the Year. "I just know that I did something. When I actually got the news that it was my ACL, it was so hard. I bawled my eyes out. You hear about it, but you never expect it to happen to you. I didn't know what an ACL was before it happened to me. It was just horrible."
The Mississauga, Canada, native eventually returned from the injury and tied for the team lead with 12 points and tied for second with four goals in 2010 despite missing five games on duty with the Canadian national team.
But the rehabilitation process was arduous for Filigno, whose competitive edge made it difficult for the forward when she could not see the field during the 2009 season, Crooks said.
"The first thought is you feel so bad for the kid because she's in the national pool for Canada, as well," said Crooks, who first scouted Filigno in 2008 at one of Canada's national training centers. "Not only does it damage what she can do for Rutgers, but now it's hurting her national team chances. It was devastating in a couple ways. As I recall, probably for the first week or so, just psychologically it was tough on her, like it is on a lot of athletes."
Filigno initially began meeting with trainers for one hour per period, performing as remedial tasks as lifting her leg over a bicycle, she said.
By the end of the rehab process, the 5-foot-7 forward met with physical therapists for upward of four or five hours, and leaned on teammate Tricia DiPaolo, a midfielder with her own history of injury concerns.
"If I needed someone to talk to, there was my family, and then there was Tricia," Filigno said.
Filigno returned to Team Canada in May 2010 — just months removed from the ACL tear — and team officials let Filigno know exactly how far behind the rest of the team she was in terms of training.
Filigno played sparingly in five games with her pro team in Canada, the Toronto Lynx, but with strict orders from Crooks and Team Canada to closely monitor the prized striker's playing time.
And when Filigno finally returned to the Knights before the program's most recent training camp, team-wide injury concerns prompted Crooks to alter the team's training regimen.
Four other Knights, including all-time assists leader Gina DeMaio, suffered ACL tears after Filigno went down that same preseason, catching the attention of a coach who was forced to search the depths of his roster for available bodies.
By the time she saw the field in meaningful action, Filigno still did not feel 100 percent — she admitted that point occurred during the CONCACAF qualifying in November with Team Canada — but managed to find the back of the net in her first regular season game with Rutgers.
"It was a really good experience," Filigno said. "I felt like I was back because it was such a great feeling to come back in your first game and score. But obviously as the season went on, I didn't feel like I was 100 percent. Scoring in the first game, I felt on top of the world."
But there were points during the 2010 season in which Crooks noticed a frustrated Filigno, who he said wanted to succeed for the team but could not physically perform to her normal capability prior to the injury.
"It was stressing her," Crooks said. "Jonelle's not a five-goal scorer. She's a double-digit goal scorer without question."
Still, Filigno found accomplishments from another season cut short — this one from national team duty.
"For me, because the process was so hard, my motto was just, ‘Make tomorrow better than yesterday.' Throughout, that's what I did, even though it was baby steps, and I still wasn't at where I wanted to be," she said. "I think I can definitely take so many positives out of that."