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Sophomore midfielder JoJo Cotto made her comeback against Delaware State, after missing 26 games.

Credit: Son Nguyen

It was a season of ups and downs for Penn women’s soccer, but sophomore midfielder Jojo Cotto has plenty of reasons to celebrate.

During her freshman year, Cotto looked set for a significant role for the Red and Blue after playing a total of 42 minutes between the first two games of the season, against Mount St. Mary’s and Army. However, plans changed when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament during a team practice.

After undergoing surgery and sitting out for more than a year, Cotto finally got back into action on Oct. 21, when the Quakers defeated Delaware State by a 2-0 score.

“The Delaware State game was by far the best day of my life, I feel like I waited almost 25 months for that day,” Cotto said. “It was such a great energy on the bus and on the locker room, and all of my friends were super excited for me. I was just so lucky to be back on the field.”

The long wait was a result of a different injury during her final year at Menlo-Atherton High School in California. The then-senior was forced to miss the entire season due to a ligament tear — the same one that held her out of 26 Penn matches. While for many athletes that could mean a premature ending for their careers, it only made Cotto more motivated.

“As a freshman, you’re still trying to find your way, so it made things more challenging for her,” coach Nicole Van Dyke said. “I’m glad she had a taste of playing time early on, so she knew what it felt like and had something to look forward to. And no one’s really given a role, but she chose to be very supportive of her teammates, very directional on the sidelines. She has a bit of a coach’s eye, so it’s helpful to her teammates that she’s always in the game.”

Cotto echoed Van Dyke’s view of her role outside of the field, emphasizing the closeness and friendship of the group.

“My teams are always extremely supportive: whether or not you play, you are treated equally. Especially during the recovery process, they were always there for me. Over the summer, they were still encouraging me and checking in on me, which is just amazing,” Cotto added. “On the other hand, I’m trying to be as involved as possible, because you can make an impact even when you’re not playing.”

The constant encouragement she received from the rest of the team was also essential throughout her preparation to return. According to the sophomore, suffering the same injury twice in a short span of time created a mental obstacle — the hardest part of the ordeal to overcome. 

“After the first time, I got surgery and I didn’t expect anything to go wrong, so the second time, you have a little voice in the back of your mind,” Cotto said. “I had to learn to embrace that rather than shove it down. At the end of the day, adversity builds character.'"

As far as the decision process to have Cotto play against the Hornets, Van Dyke said that picking a nonconference match between Ivy League games helped taking pressure off Cotto and gave her the possibility to play 28 minutes — the most she’s ever played for Penn.

Now with her sophomore season under the belt and the comeback complete, Cotto is excited for her next two seasons as a Quaker.

“I’m definitely more prepared than I was coming in last year, because I can take everything that I’ve learned here. I’ve built a pretty good mental toughness and resilience to face challenges,” Cotto said. “I can’t wait to continue growing with this team, but also use what I’ve learned to support freshmen that may have a tough time as well.”

Only time will tell how many minutes Cotto will accumulate for the Red and Blue, but her growth during the past two years is undeniable — and will be used in Penn women’s soccer favor.