Seventh-year senior leads unit after three ACL tears
Senior defender Tricia DiPaolo has spent seven years at Rutgers. Even after suffering injury after injury, which threatened to derail her soccer career, she refused to hang up her cleats.
Six knee surgeries — three ACL tears, two meniscus tears and a microfracture surgery — and endless rehabilitations later, The Daily Targum’s Comeback Player of the Year finished her career on her own terms.
“Just passion for the game [motivated me to come back],” DiPaolo said. “I wanted to be able to end my career on my own note and not by a doctor or anything like that. I’ve played soccer my whole life and I knew that I wanted to keep playing regardless of injuries or setbacks.”
DiPaolo missed the 2007, 2008 and 2011 campaigns while being injured and as a result, approached head women’s soccer coach Glenn Crooks partway through the 2012 season about applying for a seventh season.
She had heard of it being granted to a few other athletes, and after some research done by Rutgers Director of Compliance Brian Warcup, the process was well underway.
Crooks and associate head coach Mike O’Neill told DiPaolo last year on Christmas Day that she would be able to participate in a seventh season.
The three seasons spent injured and recovering were not easy for one simple reason.
“Sitting out and watching the team and wanting to be on the field playing with them [was the most challenging thing],” DiPaolo said. “Knowing the whole ACL recovery process and it takes time, and it just gets frustrating when you want to be out there and you feel like you can do more, but you have to take it slow and go by the rules.”
The typical recovery period for an ACL tear is six to nine months. The second tear could, perhaps, become easier in the recovery because an athlete knows the process. She knows how the knee is supposed to feel at certain points.
For DiPaolo, the fact that she was off the field even longer made the additional recoveries more of a challenge.
“I guess it’s more difficult because it’s more time from the field,” DiPaolo said. “You always want to be on the field, you always want to play. So it’s always difficult but fortunately I had great support from my family and my teammates and the coaches, so that made it a bit easier.”
Crooks said that DiPaolo’s biggest asset that she brought to the Scarlet Knights this season was her leadership.
“She was a very good player this fall and I can’t think of a more deserving candidate for that award,” Crooks said, “because not only did Trish play well and help solidify the backline with her leadership, but she’s also our captain. It was her fourth year as a captain in her seventh year with the program. The way she led that team was vital to our success.”
DiPaolo anchored a backline that started a combination of freshmen and sophomores, and after converting from an attacking player to a defender in 2012, she was more comfortable in her final season, Crooks said.
“Her leadership back there with that young group was vital that they had someone to look up to,” Crooks said. “Just in an overall team sense, Trish’s presence and leadership meant a lot to the entire group.”
Fellow senior and Canadian national team forward Jonelle Filigno said that being able to be on the field with DiPaolo this season was actually the first that both went uninjured for a year.
“We really only played together for this last season. When she was injured, I played and when I was injured, she played,” Filigno said. “We were back and forth. We never really had a season together and this was our first [and] it was both of our senior seasons. It’s pretty cool to keep but it’s nice to carry it on and continue training because we both love the sport so much and we love playing together.
Both have the opportunity to continue playing together as Filigno made the National Women’s Soccer League club Sky Blue FC’s opening day roster.
DiPaolo was in preseason camp and was named to the reserve squad, which allows her to be called up to the professional roster when national team players are called away for international duty.
She does not have to travel far to suit up for the club as Sky Blue plays at Yurcak Field, something that makes the experience even better for DiPaolo.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play professional soccer,” DiPaolo said. “And to be able to play in your home state at the field you’ve been playing on your whole collegiate career, it’s awesome. Just being in that environment every day, it’s a blessing.”
Crooks had the opportunity to speak with Sky Blue FC head coach Jim Gabarra and said that Gabarra was thrilled to have DiPaolo within the squad because of the work ethic and positivity she brings to the field.
“She has such a passion for this game that despite six knee surgeries, she’s pushed herself to this level and now she’s on a professional roster,” Crooks said. “I couldn’t be happier for anybody more than Trish based on what’s she been through and where she’s at now.”