October 6, 2010

Matt Stengel ’11 Returns to Soccer Field After Tearing ACL

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Coming back from an injury to begin playing a sport again is never an easy thing to do. But to come back from a hiatus from playing and fall into a starting position, specifically during some of the most important games of the season? Now, that takes some hard work and determination. Defenseman and midfielder on the soccer team, Matt Stengel, demonstrated that he had this desire to succeed in the sport. Standing at 6-0, the senior returned to the field for his fourth collegiate year after tearing his ACL in the spring of his sophomore year. And during Saturday’s important game that opened up conference play against nationally ranked Ivy League foe, Penn, Stengel was able to make his presence known on the field as he played like a top player who never experienced any physical impediment. But getting back to this point was definitely no easy trek. Stengel described how being an active player on the team is completely different from being out with an injury.“From the sidelines, the game looks so slowed down and everything looks so easy. Then you get back on there and you’re head’s spinning and your touch isn’t as good as it used to be,” Stengel said. Stengel tore his ACL in the spring of 2009, during just the second practice under head coach Jaro Zawislan. “I rehabbed before surgery until the end of finals and then the day after my last final I was in surgery, so that entire summer between sophomore and junior year I was in therapy three or four times a week,” Stengel said. Once he returned to school for his junior year last fall, Stengel did a lot of work during practices on his own before he reached the point where he could engage in non-contact activities and participate in some drills. “It was a slow progression,” he emphasized.    Spring of this year witnessed a lot less team-oriented work for Stengel, who was able to improve upon his own ability through VSI sessions. These “Voluntary Skill Instruction” gatherings consisted of six field players and a goalie, along with one to two coaches, meeting for an hour each week. “I kind of played within my limitations and the coaches understood that. They helped me out and knew that I was going to kind of progress slowly at my own pace, and get back on the field when I felt ready. By the end of the spring, I was there,” Stengel said.And indeed, he was. During the spring, Stengel became well enough to participate in a Canadian tour, during which he played seven games in just a week. This is more than the average soccer athlete plays in an entire summer. Keeping up his practicing, Stengel continued to play into the summer. He did experience some rustiness in play, as would any competitor during the off-season, but he eventually got back into the speed of things in time for this fall. Clearly, it was the tremendous amounts of effort that Stengel put into his injured time that allowed him to regain his former talent and show it off so far this season. It’s because of his ostensible passion for playing that he was able to exhibit such great control and possession of the ball as a non-forward on Saturday night. “Coming back from an ACL, I don’t think, is ever an easy thing to do. But it’s not something that’s insurmountable,” Stengel said. “I think it’s just about keeping positive; if you tear it and you want to come back you’ve got to think that it’s not the end of the world and, yeah, you’re not going to be back in three to four months probably –– it’s closer to six months or maybe even a year by the time you get back to your full ability.”But the long recovery time should not deter liked injured players to put in the effort for complete revitalization. “There is that point where you reach back to 100 percent,” he said. “It’s not hindering me anymore so it’s like I’m a normal player that’s just fighting for that [starting] spot everyday.”At the present moment, Stengel is not certain of his future plans. He is most likely eligible for a fifth year of play at Cornell due to his medical absence last season, but currently his decision of what to do is “up in the air”. An opportunity to continue to play soccer is definitely worth considering for Stengel, but there are a variety of accompanying factors that he would need to mull over before making a conclusion of what to do.

Original Author: Reena Gilani