Aug. 12, 2013
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder.
It has been 653 days since goalkeeper Jennifer Pettigrew (Kearny, N.J.) officially suited up for Seton Hall, a day that saw the Kearny native cap a stellar junior season by making five saves against the #13-ranked team in the nation (West Virginia) in what was the Pirates’ first appearance in the BIG EAST Tournament quarterfinals since 2000.
Three days earlier, Pettigrew had been at the center of a stifling defensive effort that lifted SHU to the second postseason victory in program history. On a blustery, rain-soaked evening at Owen T. Carroll Field, she battled through the elements to dowse a spirited attack from local rival St. John’s; tallying the first postseason shutout in school history as the Pirates advanced by virtue of a memorable 1-0 win.
As The Hall looked to build on its successful 2011 campaign, Pettigrew was manning her familiar spot between the posts during a mid-February practice when she suffered a knee injury that ultimately caused her to miss the entirety of the 2012 season.
Following surgery in March of 2012, she began the long, arduous journey back to the pitch. Forced into the foreign position of being out of action, she recently detailed the extensive rehabilitation process that she underwent in order to return to match-fitness.
“Rehab was difficult and very slow at first,” said the Kearny native who was a three-time All-State performer for Kearny High School before coming to South Orange.
“Basically, it just started out with a lot of icing and stimulation in order to get my quad and hamstring muscles moving again. I worked with [Assistant Athletic Trainer] Mitch [Toda] on getting my full range of motion back in my knee - which was very painful at times. Lifting with [Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coordinator] Angelo [Gingerelli] and the training staff was also very important throughout the entire process as we worked to get my leg strong again.”
Three months after the procedure, she had progressed enough to begin running again and what soon followed was a summer regimen designed to continue to rebuild strength and re-acclimate Pettigrew to soccer-related activities.
“I did some pool workouts in the summer, as well as a lot of jumping and moving laterally,” she recounted. “I came back in August for preseason where I was working with [Assistant Athletic Trainer] Mallory [Klapsogeorge] a lot on balance exercises in order to stabilize the knee.”
Despite her determination and the significant progress she had made, the 2012 season kicked-off with Pettigrew roaming the sideline instead of the goal-line. A mainstay in net since arriving on campus in 2009, she had entered the offseason already having established herself as one of the most accomplished individuals to put on the keeper’s shirt for Seton Hall, ranking in fourth all-time in saves (183), shutouts (6), goalkeeper minutes played (3,859) and fifth in program history with a 1.68 career goals-against average.
With his veteran goalkeeper and team captain unavailable, head coach Kazbek Tambi turned to two alternatives in entering their first seasons at Seton Hall – then freshman Gina Maiorana (Street, Md.) and Alyssa Kelly, a graduate student who had been added to the roster after completing the first three years of her eligibility at the University of Vermont.
The immediate results were unprecedented, as Maiorana and Kelly combined to start the season with four-consecutive shutouts to help lead the Pirates to the best start in program history. SHU eventually added a fifth-consecutive victory to begin the season 5-0-0 but struggled to find results the remainder of the season; finishing the year with a 7-12-0 mark overall.
Throughout the season, the rehabilitating Pettigrew was ever-present on the team bench. Despite an aching desire to compete, she worked to make her time off the field a valuable experience and continued to honor her position of leadership within the squad.
“When you’re injured and can’t play it is one of the worst feelings in the world,” she lamented. “However, as a captain, I needed to stay positive. I always tried to make the best of it and I was always on the sidelines supporting the team in any way that I could. I accepted the fact that I couldn’t play, so I treated being on the bench as a way to learn more about the game in order to improve my own game, as well as a way to motivate my teammates to win and cheer for them.”
The weeks following the conclusion of the season brought several more milestones in the recovery process for Pettigrew and less than a year after her injury, she returned to the practice field. An ensuing lower back injury threatened to derail her comeback, at least temporarily, but she once again proved her mettle and was back on the field when the team returned to practice in preparation for several exhibition matches earlier this spring.
While the resumption of her career was the culmination of a year-long commitment to rehabilitation, Pettigrew was far from satisfied as she sought to regain the form that helped her capture Third Team All-BIG EAST honors in 2010.
“I think the day I was finally fully cleared to play was the most exciting day I had since before the injury,” she said. “It was a great feeling, but I also knew I had a lot of work to do to get back to where I wanted to be. I had to work very hard to get my fitness back so I went through many treadmill sessions, sprints, and runs around town and I also lifted on my own.“
While much of her recovery can be attributed to her intrinsic motivation to compete, Pettigrew also credits a tremendous support group as well as a sense of unfinished business with helping to guide her through the trying process.
“Rehab was long and hard – sometimes very frustrating – but I was working with a great staff here at Seton Hall who helped ensure that when I got back on the field, I was 100 percent. My teammates and coaches were also very supportive of my rehab process, as well as my family, which definitely helped it move along.”
“Throughout the process, I felt as if I still had a lot to give to the soccer program,” she continued. “I knew that I needed to get back on the field to be happy again. I wanted to help my team out which is what really motivated me to get back to playing. I was never going to let my injury get the best of me or prevent me from doing what I love to do - play soccer.”
Perhaps the most impressive part of Pettigrew’s long fight to rejoin her teammates between the touchlines is that in the interim, she received her bachelor’s degree from Seton Hall’s esteemed Sport Management program.
With a myriad of options before her, Pettigrew chose to return for a fourth year in goal. Soccer was still in her heart and the absence brought on by her injury had only strengthened what has been a lifetime connection to the game.
“I felt as if I would be giving up, and kind of letting an injury get the best of me if I decided to walk away,” she explained. “I’m definitely not a quitter, and I’m very determined when it comes to playing. It didn’t feel right to stop playing the game that I love and I didn’t feel my time in a Seton Hall uniform was over just because I got injured.”
“I think we have a lot to play for this season,” she added. "I want to win a BIG EAST Tournament and make it to the NCAA’s…that’s always been my dream since I committed to SHU. I want to help my team win. I’m excited to play this season with some of the best people I’ve met at Seton Hall. I think this season is a new chapter for me - an exciting chapter that I’ve been patiently waiting for.”
The wait is almost over.
The women's soccer squad will play the first of its two home exhibitions tomorrow, Tuesday, Aug. 13 when they host Drexel at 3:00 p.m. The 2013 regular season gets started with a 7:00 p.m. matchup with Stony Brook at Owen T. Carroll field on Friday, Aug. 23.