Kelderman works herself back into starting lineup after ACL injury

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Photo by Alex DeBuhr

Josie Kelderman (14) fighting for the ball in Marquette women’s soccer’s 2-0 win over Western Michigan Sept. 25.

Glendale, Wisconsin, native Josie Kelderman grew up experiencing the greatest stretch in Marquette women’s soccer program history.

Now as a member of the Golden Eagles, she has the opportunity to be a part of the reboot.

“I remember the early years getting recruited here when they were making it to the NCAA Tournament or they were winning Big East championships,” Kelderman said. “That’s something I really want to experience with my teammates.” 

Aside from trying to help lead the Golden Eagles back to the big dance for the first time since 2017, Kelderman is also writing her own comeback story. 

Last year, Kelderman suffered a season-ending ACL injury during an exhibition game against University of Wisconsin-Madison. It would go on to change her life.

“It was pretty difficult,” Kelderman said. “Especially after the whole COVID season, which was super frustrating, I was really excited to come back and have a normal year. It sucked overall that it was out of the window immediately.” 

Following her surgery, Kelderman was staring down a long and unpredictable road to recovery. 

During her rehab, Kelderman worked closely with Pelaez and associate athletic trainer Kenny Wilka as well as Assistant Director of Sports Performance Emily Jacobson and the team’s orthopedic surgeon. 

Wilka, who supervised the entire rehab, said there was no rush in Kelderman’s rehab process. 

“We wanted the tissue to heal right,” Wilka said. “Our goal was to do right by Josie.” 

Kelderman said while she faced challenges with the injury itself, she was tested physically.

“Physically, it was extremely frustrating. I’ve never been on crutches before and I ended up being on them properly for about 10 weeks,” Kelderman said. “Then mentally, I just felt helpless almost like I couldn’t do anything for myself which was extremely frustrating because I’m a very independent person.” 

She said one way she was able to cope with these difficulties was through the help of her roommates. 

“They helped me out a lot,” Kelderman said. “They knew I hated asking for help so they would do things so I wouldn’t exactly have to ask. They made me feel independent but also (helped) me out so I could do things.” 

One of those roommates was senior midfielder Hailey Block, who knew Kelderman prior to transferring to Marquette before the 2020 season, as both played on the same North Shore United club soccer team from eighth grade to college. 

“As a friend, it broke my heart because I know how much soccer plays a strong role in her life and the passion she has for the sport,” Block said. “And being her roommate you saw a side of sadness and struggle, which you normally don’t see with a different teammate because you’re not living with them. I just knew I had to be there for her through every step of it.” 

Since Kelderman was unable to be around the team in a competitive environment, those around her found ways to make her still feel part of the team. 

To do this, Block said she and other roommate senior goalkeeper Mikki Easter hosted team activities at their apartment.

“We would invite people over for movie nights, make cookies or even cook dinner together,” Block said. “(We) were exploring different hobbies that were outside of soccer.” 

As for Pelaez, he said he tried to keep her involved by inviting her to help him out with coaching. 

“She’s really receptive to things, especially during games,” Pelaez said. “I would ask her to maybe look at certain things and analyze them because you can still grow as a player by observing when you can’t play because of an injury you look at it a little bit more unbiased and more objectively.”

Kelderman said it was “really hard” being away from the team, especially when she stayed behind in Milwaukee on their road trips. 

“I really had to find things to occupy myself with so I wouldn’t get so worked up with my head about it,” Kelderman said. 

So she joined Marquette’s student-athlete advisory committee, also known as SAAC, to help out with events. 

“I hadn’t really been a good participant out of soccer or out of school things,” Kelderman said. “We did a trivia night for everyone and that was a lot of fun to plan but it just was like putting myself out there more with other people and meeting other people.” 

The time away from Marquette’s pitch also allowed her to visit another one: the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Where her dad, Kris, is the men’s head coach and her older brother, Jake, was playing his final season.

“Seeing how it feels to not be playing for an entire season gave me an extra perspective of how lucky I am to be where I am at,” Kelderman said. “It reminded me how much I actually love being out there and how much I needed and wanted to get back. It pushed me to work a lot harder.” 

Even though she was cleared for soccer-related activities right at the start of June, Kelderman said she “wasn’t fully 100% back” to how she used to play.

“I wasn’t quite as quick as I used to be and the decision-making process, it was all really frustrating,” Kelderman said. “Because all of a sudden, I was thinking about it a lot when that was something I never had to do before.” 

She said it took her a few months to get over these obstacles.

“The biggest part was realizing I had to do a lot of extra work,” Kelderman said. “I would do smaller technical sessions with my dad, go lift to get my leg muscles back and then go to a soccer practice. It was a lot of extra work, which is something I never really had to do before.” 

Kelderman made her return to the pitch in the Golden Eagles’ home opener Aug. 25 against UWM. 

“I remember getting onto the field and it was almost like I had all this adrenaline,” Kelderman said. “I was just so excited, but also nervous. I played for five minutes and I was like, ‘I don’t even know what just happened.’”

As for Pelaez, he said Kelderman’s return brought a mix of emotions.

“I felt like a dad who’s going, ‘Oh, god, she’s going to walk,’” Pelaez said. “It was good to see her come out of there smiling. She was tired as hell, which I told her she would be but it was great.” 

Since then, Kelderman has begun to contribute more for the Golden Eagles as she has earned starts in each of the last five games in addition to seeing her minutes extend each match. 

Pelaez said Kelderman’s biggest improvement since her return is her ability to see the field.

“I give them all the green light to fly balls into the back of the box or into the net and she’s starting to see that,” Pelaez said. “I forgot how well she can strike the ball. It’s a pleasant addition to what we’re trying to do.” 

And while Kelderman has her eyes set on bringing a Big East title home to Milwaukee for the first time since 2013, she has a personal goal she wants to accomplish as well.

“Just getting back to where I used to be and being able to go out there and keep up with everyone,” Kelderman said. 

This story was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU.