Don't Stop Me Now

Anna Vignet/Staff

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Megan Jesolva grimaces a little bit.

"It was so ugly and gross," she says, miming an apple-sized bulge on her knee. The Cal women's soccer team senior's reaction to a torn MCL is a little understated.

Sure, a large lump of scarred tissue on your knee is an eyesore, but the inability to perform basic movements is more disconcerting.

"I couldn't bend my knee past 90 degrees for like a month, which is really weird," she says, describing her physical condition.

Jesolva will casually mention details like this, but there was only one part of the ordeal she couldn't stand, the one complaint she always returns to as she talks about the injury: she couldn't play soccer. It was seven games into the 2009 season, and Jesolva's year was over.

Traces of the impatience and irritation still linger in her voice when recalling her recovery.

"Normally you're supposed to be able to ride a bike after like the first month, and I wasn't able to do that, so I was like, 'Okay, why is this taking so long to heal?'" she says.

In the grand scheme of things, three months isn't that much time. Jesolva says it seemed like a decade. The hyperbole might seem extreme, but few people can understand the emotional toll that being unable to play took on the U-23 national team member.

In spite of the unusually long recovery period, Jesolva tried to play again with her team in the last four games of the fall season. She finally returned at full strength in January and was training with the national program by March.

"That was my first time competing at a higher level, where I felt like 100-percent good to go. I was getting my lungs back, I was getting my legs back," she says of playing at the U-23 camp. "Everything just felt right again."

For a player who's comfortable at virtually every position on the field, it makes sense that the soccer pitch is the only place where she feels "right." Being out for three months took every ounce of willpower that Jesolva could muster.

Captain Emily Shibata said that, as a teammate, she felt the need to keep Jesolva motivated.

"I just kept telling her, 'Meg you're gonna be out there sooner or later, take your rehab slowly, and get healthy cause you don't want any other injuries to come about of this,'" Shibata said. "She struggled, but she's come back even stronger."

But those words were extra inspiration on top of the implicit obligation that Jesolva felt for her teammates. The mutual support that teammates should provide for each other was motivation to push through three months of pain, struggle, an eventually recovery.

"I put myself on the line for them any day, any game, all practice," Jesolva said. "I want to be there for them and win with them and be on the field fighting with them,"

"Whether I was on the field or not, I was always trying to push them to be the best. Of course it's easier to do on the field, you're in the action, you can lead by example. But throughout my injury time I had to dig deep and try to motivate them while at the same time kind of listening to my own words and motivating myself."

Now that she's back on the field, in spite of the adversity that soccer has presented her, Jesolva continues to put herself on the line in the name of the Bears.

In games this season against Long Beach State and Pacific, Jesolva was taken out and sustained injuries that she said made walking difficult. But in both instances, she was back, ready to do it all over again in the next week's game.

"(Megan) is a very tough young lady, she is physically able to withstand a lot of pain," says coach Neil McGuire. "As a result of that, she's probably played a lot more minutes being injured than she has healthy."

Despite risking more injuries, soccer and Megan Jesolva have an almost dysfunctionally codependent relationship.

The Cal women's soccer team needs the La Mirada, Calif., native's versatility and work ethic.

"Megan's definitely a vital part of our team, and her work rate on and off the field is exceptional, so not having her, you can tell that she's not there," says senior McKenna McKetty.

But more than that, Jesolva needs her team and her game.

"I just wanna continue playing soccer for as long as my body can hold up," she says.

And Jesolva has concrete plans to do so. While continuing to pursue experience with the national team, Jesolva will take next semester off to work on getting drafted to play in the Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) league.

She will return in the fall to finish her degree in English and help the team as a student assistant coach.

But if her tireless determination to make it back onto the field is any indication, Jesolva is more focused on making the most of her final season atCal - especially since her junior year was cut short.

In addition to the lofty 2010 season goals that almost any elite soccer player will set for themselves, Jesolva has a slightly more personal one.

"I really want to score a goal," she said. "I haven't scored a goal in season, all my years. I've had millions of assists, I've scored in spring, but never in season, so I'm really trying to score."

It's a little surprising that in three years and 50 games, Jesolva hasn't seen the back of the net.

"Megan is probably going to go down as one of the all-time greats at Cal," says McGuire. "Her statistics don't show just how good a player she is."

Even more surprising is that after three months off and countless trips to the training room, Jesolva hasn't seen the end of her career or lost her passion for the game.


Alex Matthews covers women's soccer Contact her at [email protected]

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