Soccer’s Kerestine looks to keep playing despite unlucky end to North Texas career

Soccer’s Kerestine looks to keep playing despite unlucky end to North Texas career

Soccer’s Kerestine looks to keep playing despite unlucky end to North Texas career
December 03
12:33 2015

Alex Lessard | Staff Writer

@alexlikechexmix

Amid thousands of passionate Texas Tech University fans, the Mean Green soccer team’s opportunity to make history had finally come. North Texas stormed through Conference-USA by racking up an NCAA best of 19 wins, and the squad looked to win an NCAA tournament game for the first time in school history.

But for senior goalkeeper Jackie Kerestine, the chance was stripped away with one fateful step.

With the stadium lights shining bright, she was going through her pre-game routine as usual, warming up and taking practice shots. As she dove for a ball, her cleat got stuck in the grass, causing an awkward twist of her heel with her toe stuck the other direction.

Once she heard a snap of the bone, she collapsed.

“I sincerely thought it was just going to be a little stinger, and that with a good tape job, it would be good,” Kerestine said. “Of course, when we wrap it and I still can’t walk, I instantly knew I couldn’t play.”

After lying on the ground for 10 minutes, team trainers guided her to the locker room for an evaluation. Through all the swelling, X-rays showed she had broken her fibula. Having suffered a torn ACL in 2013 and a broken face in the C-USA championship game last year, she would have to watch what would be the team’s final game from the sidelines for the third consecutive season.

Medication helped dial down the pain leading to surgery just one week later, but nothing could have prepared her for what would happen in the upcoming days.

“I couldn’t even move my toes because it was so numb,” Kerestine said. “The second day around noon or so, the nerve block wore off. That was probably one of the worst pains ever.”

In the moments immediately following the injury, Kerestine’s mind was racing. She couldn’t stop thinking about how mad the team and head coach John Hedlund might be about being unavailable for the most important game of the season.

The national anthem and player introductions began, and Kerestine’s father pulled her inside the stadium. Through all the tears, he let her know the injury didn’t make her a failure and her season was still one most players could only dream of.

“I’m the kind of person where once I get out my emotions, I’m good to go,” Kerestine said. “I just needed a second to kind of be away from everybody and let it all out.”

Meanwhile, freshman goalkeeper and season-long backup Brooke Bradley was mentally preparing for her first career start. All year, she had prepared before each game as if she was going to play, but still had just over six minutes of game experience under her belt behind Kerestine.

“It hit me when she tried to get up to walk and she couldn’t, so she just sat back down,” Bradley said. “In warmups, I looked over and she was trying to get her ankle taped. She was bawling.”

The task at hand was less than ideal for the Mean Green, but Bradley had the full support of her team. In the moment, Bradley said experience didn’t matter, and the injury only heightened the team’s focus.

“I wanted us to keep going on and see how far we could go,” Bradley said. “With her getting injured, it made the team want to play to the best of their ability. They didn’t want to lose just because Jackie wasn’t in.”

Most of all, Kerestine didn’t want the team to lose, either. Once she came to terms with what happened, she returned to the sidelines on crutches and played the role of a vocal leader, giving Bradley and company tons of coaching and inspiration throughout the game.

“She was extremely encouraging, trying to coach up the team and the defense as much as she could from the sideline,” senior midfielder Lindsey Hulstein said. “That’s the kind of person that she is. She’s always going to stay as involved as possible.”

Bradley looked to Kerestine as a mentor throughout the season, watching her every move and picking up little tricks along the way. Whenever she could, Bradley would ask Kerestine questions in hopes of learning as much as possible before eventually filling her shoes as the starter next season.

“She’s coachable and she works hard. She works out on her own,” Kerestine said. “She does all the extra stuff, and she takes initiative to do things. I think that’ll really benefit her next year.”

As for Kerestine, the future is still bright. While she will be in a walking boot for the upcoming months, she plans on intensely training her upper body and core muscles until she can start riding a stationary bike without resistance in four weeks. If everything goes as planned without any setbacks, she expects to be back at full health by mid-February.

Although she said she’d love to dip into coaching, Kerestine is actively pursuing a career in the National Women’s Soccer League. Hedlund helped her register for the league’s upcoming amateur draft on Jan. 16, where 40 players will have their name called.

Even if she doesn’t get selected, not all draftees survive preseason cuts, and opportunities to try out for teams as a free agent will arise. For a player whose Twitter bio now reads “retired college athlete,” the end of her North Texas career may not be the final chapter of her story.

“I could not have honestly asked for anything better. It gets me really sad to think about it,” Kerestine said. “I see all my teammates getting together and working out. I don’t have that anymore. I don’t have a spring season to get ready for. I’m done.”

Featured Image: North Texas senior Jackie Kerestine clears the ball with her fists following a free kick in the final minutes of a game during the 2015 season. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

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