As the home of fictional heavyweight champ Rocky Balboa, Philadelphia loves a good comeback story. Elmira Free Academy senior Kiersten Cobb-Wilkins is headed there with one of her own.
She signed a National Letter of Intent on Thursday afternoon to play Division II soccer at Chestnut Hill College, receiving a partial athletic scholarship less than a year after she tore the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in her right knee.
“It’s great,” she said of completing her college choice. “In May I was devastated. I didn’t know what I was going to do because this is a big year for prospective students and things like that.”
Cobb-Wilkins, of Lowman, was joined at the signing ceremony at the EFA Community Room by her moms, Kim Cobb and Cynthia Wilkins, along with Express girls soccer coach Zach Sarno.
“She’s worked hard at this,” Cynthia Wilkins said. “She’s played soccer since she was eight years old and she goes to every practice, every game. Last year when she had her injury we kind of thought it was over. But with the hard work it still paid off. It’s very rewarding to see her reach her dreams because this was always her dream — Division I, Division II soccer at a high level.”
Her parents and coach had a close-up view of the work she put into returning to the field following her injury last April in a Soaring Capital Soccer Club game at EFA.
“I heard it pop and that was about it,” Cobb-Wilkins said. “I didn’t really know what happened. I just kind of dropped and started screaming and they carried me off the field and I went to the (emergency room) after that. Then the whole process began of recovery.”
Cobb-Wilkins, 17, said she was told the recovery from surgery would take about six months, but she was back in four and a half. She returned with three games left in the regular season, then helped Elmira win the Section 4 Class AA title.
“I did a lot of physical therapy to come back in time for my senior year,” she said. “All summer that’s all I did.”
Said Wilkins: “It was amazing to see her on the field.”
The injury cost her the chance to impress college coaches at showcase events during the crucial spring and summer before her senior year. But she was able to fill a spot on a New Jersey travel team at a showcase in Delaware following the high school season, where she impressed Chestnut Hill coach Sandy Dickson.
She has played varsity soccer since eighth grade — two seasons for EFA and three for the combined Elmira team. The Express won Southern Tier Athletic Conference West Division titles her final two seasons.
“She deserves everything she gets,” Sarno said. “She’s one of the hardest-working players I’ve coached.
“What turned into a gloomy situation, because of her hard work and dedication to the team and dedication to herself, has turned into a great thing.”
Cobb-Wilkins is a high honors student with a 3.71 grade point average. She plans to major in digital forensics at Chestnut Hill and academics played a big role in her decision.
“They have really small classroom sizes, so I wanted that,” she said. “I couldn’t sit in a university with 500 kids in an auditorium and learn. … The girls I stayed with were really nice and it’s a really pretty campus. It’s just a warm, homey feeling.”
Chestnut Hill is a member of the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference and posted a 5-11-1 record last season.