Midfielders recover to lead Rutgers
For the Rutgers women’s lacrosse team, its goal of making the Big East Tournament has been fulfilled.
The Scarlet Knights (9-8, 3-4) have overcome a great deal of adversity to get to this point.
The Knights lost senior captain and midfielder Amanda Trendell to injury March 29 against Villanova. They also fought until the final day of conference play to secure a playoff spot.
The ability to remain mentally strong is something that head coach Laura Brand-Sias stresses every day to her team.
No one better exemplifies this mental toughness than junior midfielder Lauren Sbrilli and sophomore midfielder Kristin Kocher. Both players redshirted last year after suffering ACL tears.
The injury usually requires 10 to 12 months of rehabilitation before the individual is back to full strength. The rehab process is one of the most grueling when it comes to sports injuries.
In most cases, the athlete is unable to put any weight on their leg, and must use crutches to get around for about two weeks after the surgery.
It is not until three months after the surgery that the player can return to jogging, and six months until they can be evaluated for a return to competition.
The entire process is one that requires physical endurance, along with mental strength.
Both players have exhibited these qualities and even exceeded them. Now that they have returned to playing, Kocher and Sbrilli have been able to look back and learn from their past struggles.
“The rehab was really difficult, I expected to play with my senior class and go out with them,” Sbrilli said. “To go through that and watch them all leave was not easy, but it was all worth it now in the spot we are in.”
Both have had a substantial impact on the Knights this season.
Sbrilli showed almost no signs of rust, scoring a goal Feb. 18 in the Knights’ first game of the season against Manhattan. Kocher first saw action in Rutgers’ March 1 contest against Delaware, scoring her first goal of the season against the Blue Hens.
On the season, Sbrilli leads the team in a number of categories, including points with 37, goals with 30 and shots with 79. She is currently ninth in the Big East with 1.88 goals per game.
Her return this year has not gone unnoticed by other teams, which Brand-Sias has used to the Knights’ advantage.
“She is a strong, athletic dodger so teams are going to key in on her even when she isn’t having a great game,” Brand-Sias said of the junior midfielder. “This opens up opportunities for other people because defenses are so focused on her.”
Kocher is one of the players seeing more opportunities.
She ranks third on the team in points with 25, scoring 19 goals and adding six assists, even though she did not see action until the fourth game of the season.
Her offensive presence got Rutgers out of its early season offensive struggles. Before playing, the Knights averaged 5.3 goals per game. Since Kocher returned, they have averaged 9.07 goals per game.
Both players have exemplified the meaning of mental toughness described by their head coach. Brand-Sias has previously remarked on how they have contributed to elevating the work ethic and toughness of the team as a whole.
Kocher and Sbrilli are just happy to be back on the field when it matters most for Rutgers.
“It has really been great being back on the field,” Kocher said. “Especially after all of your teammates and coaches supporting you, and seeing their excitement once I got back to playing.”
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