Despite Injury Setback, Soccer Star Stays Positive
By Cooper Nelson
It’s not easy for sports fans to understand what it’s like to be an athlete.
Fans are able to understand the joy of a win or the sting of a loss. But how does it feel to be sidelined by an injury, forced to watch the season go by without making an impact?
GCU men’s soccer star Kyle Ciliento has experienced that feeling — twice.
Injuries never are easy for athletes, but Ciliento is no ordinary athlete. With 50 goals in his first two seasons at GCU, he has a number of awards to show for his efforts. He is an NCAA Division II All-American and a two-time Pacific West Conference Player of the Year.
He’s near the top in the college soccer world, yet still very humble.
“I think the award I am most proud of is PacWest Conference Men’s Scholar Athlete of the Year,” he says of the award, announced this week for 2010-11. “It showed that I am a pretty smart guy along with soccer.”
As a star at Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, Ciliento received scholarship offers from several Division I schools.
“The dream of all the best players in Arizona was to go play Division I in California,” he says.
The dream turned quickly to a nightmare for Ciliento at Saint Mary’s College of California. He played in three games with the team before tearing his ACL in his left knee. He decided to look at other options.
Saint Mary’s “gave me a really good offer, the school was fine, but I loved to play soccer,” he says. “After I got hurt, I wanted to go home to play. I knew a few guys from GCU.”
He talked with GCU’s head coach, Petar Draksin, about playing for the Antelopes.
“Drak knew about me and took a chance,” Ciliento says. “I am grateful for it.”
In his first game for GCU against No. 1-ranked California State University at Dominguez Hills, he scored both goals as the ’Lopes won, 2-1.
Although he went on to score 23 goals as a freshman, he wasn’t fully satisfied.
“I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a fluke,” he says.
With 27 goals during his sophomore season — the most in Division II — Ciliento led GCU to a 15-3-2 record and a trip to the West Region finals, where the Antelopes lost a heartbreaker to host Chico (Calif.) State, 2-1.
There would be more disappointment. Ciliento tore his ACL in the other knee in a spring exhibition game against Embry-Riddle University, and that will keep him from playing at all in the 2011 season.
“It kind of sucks — I can’t play this year with my friends who are seniors,” he says. “People said that we had a chance to contend for a national championship. I don’t feel like I let my team down, but I know that I am a big part of the team.”
He plans to remain involved this season, which is off to a good start (2-0, No. 1 ranking in the West Region) for GCU.
“I still consider myself a leader on the team,” he says. “I am at every practice I can be at, when I don’t have to do things for my knee. I want to cheer them on because I know that they would do the same for me. I need to continue to teach people and share my knowledge.”
Ciliento credits David Bayliff’s work at Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy and the support from his family and his girlfriend, Kaila Knopf, a junior on the GCU women’s tennis team.
“I feel better this time from all the support I have here,” he says. “An ACL isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be. I feel that I was a better player when I came back from my first one, and I feel that I can be a better player after this one. It is a long recovery, but I know I can get through it.
“I can still play for two more years and work on getting my master’s degree. There is always a plus to everything.”