Defender uses seventh year to her advantage
Tricia DiPaolo has been with the Rutgers women’s soccer team almost twice as long as her freshman teammates.
Six knee surgeries — three ACL tears, two meniscus tears and a microfracture surgery — threatened to force the senior defender to hang up her cleats.
Instead of stepping away from the game, she used those words to spark a comeback.
“There were doctors who told me that I should consider stopping playing and then there were a lot of people I knew stopped believing in me as well,” DiPaolo said. “But I used that as motivation and let it fuel me to get back.”
DiPaolo was unable to compete for the Scarlet Knights in the 2007, 2008 or 2011 seasons.
Midway through last season, she approached head coach Glenn Crooks about applying to the NCAA for a seventh year of eligibility. It was something Crooks and Rutgers Director of Compliance Brian Warcup had never heard of.
After performing research and speaking with an NCAA contact, Warcup told them while rare, it was possible.
The NCAA granted the waiver in December 2012.
“But the really nice thing that happened is that she was granted the waiver in early December but we decided not to tell her until Christmas Day,” Crooks said. “So I got my associate head coach, Michael O’Neill, on the phone with me and we called Tricia and her parents on Christmas morning and told her she was getting her seventh year.”
DiPaolo’s resilience did not go unnoticed.
“[Even] when I was younger and didn’t see really any playing time, Tricia kept getting hurt and she kept coming back,” said senior goalkeeper Jessica Janosz. “It really showed me what it meant to really, truly love the game of soccer and not let anything stop her from pursuing her dreams of finishing all her years.”
The task of coming back from six surgeries was daunting, but Crooks saw an unwavering positivity in the four-year captain as she bounced back time and time again.
“To me, Tricia’s always been the same: just a determined athlete always with an unbelievable positive attitude. After every surgery, she was just so positive,” Crooks said. “Obviously that’s a lot of surgeries — six — and she was always just so positive about working her way back, how she rehabbed, and unfortunately for her there were a number of setbacks. She either redid the injury or a new injury occurred.”
DiPaolo said that unlike many athletes, she failed to hit a point during the recovery process where she wanted to give up.
Instead she focused on making the entire process something that she could learn from.
“I think the biggest thing that I learned is dealing with adversity with a positive attitude because I mean, at certain points throughout the recovery process there’s not much that you can control,” DiPaolo said. “So you just really have to focus on what you can control and make the best of your experience. I just focused on making it a learning experience and I wanted to learn everything I could while I couldn’t help on the field.”
This season, she found her feet after making the move to the backline in 2012.
She has started all 19 matches this season and places second on the team in assists with four.
“I’m just so happy for her that she’s been able to experience a year like last year when we recovered from a very sluggish start of the conference,” Crooks said. “She got to play in two NCAA games and now this year, having the opportunity to get to the final four in the conference and hopefully beyond.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.