A happy return for Eustace's Kelbon

Bishop Eustace senior lacrosse player Kristen Kelbon had waited an awfully long time for this past Wednesday, and she didn't feel let down.

Kelbon played her first game in about a year and didn't lose her scoring touch or her appreciation of what it means to be on the field performing.

Bishop Eustace's Kristen Kelbon plays Wednesday against Paul VI in her first game back after suffering a torn ligament in her left knee last year.

Last April, she tore the anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament, and meniscus in her left knee while playing lacrosse. That meant not only the end of her season, but also a year's worth of exercises for her leg and a continuing test of her resolve.

She passed both the leg and resolve tests, and her reward was taking the field for a 19-6 win over Paul VI.

Kelbon, one of the team captains, didn't start the game and didn't play a lot. She estimated she got about six minutes of playing time in each half, as coach Kat Burke Esposito wanted to ease her into the lineup.

Still, something that many athletes take for granted, the chance simply to be on the field and compete, meant the world to Kelbon after what had been a difficult year.

"It was very emotional," Kelbon said.

With good reason.

So much goes through the athlete's mind after an injury, and often the first thought is whether he or she could return to form. Amid the uncertainty, the great ones just plow through and work and don't allow anything negative to dominate their thoughts.

"The last year was very tough for her, but she works so hard," Burke Esposito said. "As hard as it has been, she has grown from the experience."

The coach and player formed a bond because Burke Esposito suffered a torn ACL while playing field hockey at Eustace.

Burke Esposito went on to play lacrosse for St. Joseph's University, where Kelbon will go on an academic/lacrosse scholarship.

In December of her junior year, Kelbon made an oral commitment, and despite suffering her injury four months later, St. Joseph's never wavered.

"Everybody at St. Joseph's has been so good to me and so encouraging," said Kelbon, of Mount Laurel.

Encouragement was the word of the day upon her return to action. Kelbon had her own cheering section.

"All my friends came, and some of them made me posters welcoming me back," she said. "It was great."

And apparently, so was Kelbon. In her limited time, she scored twice.

Now, she will gradually increase her minutes and enjoy her senior season.

It's actually a season that might not have occurred had her father, Ed, not strongly suggested that she give the sport a try in the seventh grade. At the time, she was a soccer player, and she continued to play soccer in her first three years at Eustace.

Finally, she gave in to her father's wishes.

"I was crying - that's how much I didn't want to play lacrosse back then," she said. "I am glad my dad insisted, because I love the sport."

That affinity grew when it was taken away from her for a year. Since the injury, Kelbon always pictured the day she would return to the field.

Not only has she returned, but Kelbon also competes on a 4-0 Eustace team that entered the weekend 18th in the state, according to the computer-generated laxpower.com rankings.

The road back from injury is a long one, but when it's negotiated as Kelbon did, it makes all the arduous rehab well worth it.