A healthy Kilbry should be a big boost to Olivet Nazarene soccer

Spring Lake's Rachel Kilbry said there's typically not a lot of hype surrounding Olivet Nazarene athletics, considering the small Christian school that's just a 45-minute train ride to Chicago has just over 4,500 students.
Nate Thompson
Aug 3, 2012

But there is reason to take notice about the women's soccer team, a squad where Kilbry and another former Laker, Katie Smith, starred last season and are expected to contribute significantly again this fall.

Kilbry, who will be a junior sweeper for the Tigers, was the rock on ONU's defense last year, as they limited opponents to just 16 goals in 22 games.

“It's not all me,” Kilbry quickly suggested. “Our outside backs playing next to me are the real stars. And our goalie (senior Wendy Espejel) is just great. She's actually played on the Mexican National Team for a few years.”

Kilbry led the Tigers to a 17-3-2 record and a first-place finish in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference. They also won the league's postseason tournament, which clinched a rare outright championship for the program.

“I'm not sure if that's ever happened here. If it has, it hasn't occurred in a long time,” Kilbry said. “That was a big thing.”

But for Kilbry, the thrill of victory was often subdued by considerable pain. She had tweaked her knee while playing in muddy conditions earlier in the season and in the closing stretch of the year, it only worsened.

“It was the core of my knee that was hurting,” Kilbry said. “By the end of games, it would just give out.”

The Tigers advanced to the second round of the NAIA national tournament, before suffering a heartbreaking loss to Embry-Riddle (Fla.), 3-1. Kilbry finished the season with four goals and three assists and 11 shots on goal in 22 games, earning her all-conference honors, as well as honorable mention All-American status in the NAIA. But the agony of unfinished business was all she cared to think about.

“Both times when we reached nationals, we felt we could have gone further,” she said. “My freshman year, we got knocked out in the first round.”

A greater concern, however, was the status of her knee. When she had it examined by doctors following the national tournament loss, Kilbry was stunned to learn that the cartilage in the knee had worn to basically nothing.

“Bones were hitting on bones, which was causing all the pain,” she said. “The doctors said I had to have surgery right away. I couldn't wait any longer.”

Kilbry underwent a procedure on Dec. 29 called mosaicplasty, which is the transfer of round “plugs” of cartilage and underlying bone to the damaged area. When multiple plugs are moved into the knee, their appearance resembles mosaic tiles.

The procedure was far from a work of art for Kilbry.

“I couldn't walk for the next 8 to 10 weeks,” she said. “That kind of stunk.”

Finally in early spring, Kilbry literally began getting comfortable again on her own two feet. Through dedicated training, she said she's now inching closer to being back to normal.

“I won't be completely 100 percent when the season starts, but I'm close. I was cleared to play half-way through the summer,” she said. “But it's hard to get back quickly with all the training that I've missed.”

While Kilbry had a set timetable for her recovery, an injury suffered by Smith was much more cloudy.

Smith, who started 17 games at center midfielder during a breakout freshman season, saw her year come to an unfortunate early halt. She took a close-range pass off the face during a contest and suffered a severe concussion.

The affects from the blow to the head were so severe that Smith had headaches from even attempting to read, run, or be around bright lights.

“That was the majority of our prayers those last few weeks; to get Katie better,” Kilbry said.

Fortunately, after a recent neurological exam in Chicago, doctors determined Smith's brain “had settled down,” and she was cleared to play.

“She was extremely excited, and so was the entire team,” Kilbry said.

The former Lakers give the Tigers two pieces in what should be a stacked lineup. Kilbry said the Tigers have eight outstanding seniors, and an incoming freshman class that is also full of talent.

Kilbry, an exercise science major who hopes to teach physical education and coach at the middle school level after graduation, said the Tigers will be tested right off the bat with three of the toughest teams in the nation at the NAIA level, including 5-time defending national champion Lee (Tenn.) University.

“If he could (schedule a tough opponent) every game, he would do it,” Kilbry said of head coach Bill Bahr. “He has so much confidence in what we can achieve and that rubs off on all of us.”

Of course, Kilbry is also circling Oct. 20 on the calendar. That's when ONU travels to Trinity International (Ill.) University, which features another Laker and Kilbry's close friend, Abby Deur-Wagenmaker. Kilbry was recently the maid of honor in Deur-Wagenmaker's wedding.

The game will highlight the strong fixture of former Lakers playing soccer in the college ranks, which also includes Annie Steinlage at Michigan State University, and Lauren Gagnon at Valparaiso University.

 

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