Suffering from calf cramps, Long Beach State women’s soccer defender Kaitlin Fregulia stared blankly and shook her head in the home-opener as she was removed from her first competitive match in over a year.
“It’s definitely a little frustrating,” Fregulia said. “I think it did kind of give me a check like, ‘hey, you’ve got to be a lot more serious now.’”
Fregulia’s 87-minute return to the Beach in their 2019 season opener was not a culmination, but rather another painful step in a long and grueling journey. Understanding her frustration requires turning the clock back to when she suffered a catastrophic injury almost two years ago.
On Oct. 15, 2017, during Fregulia’s sophomore season, The Beach traveled to UC Santa Barbara for their fifth game of the conference season. Four minutes in, Fregulia kicked the ball forward, making it move around a defender who then clipped her airborne right foot.
Fregulia’s foot stuck in the grass when it landed while the rest of her leg kept moving, instantly tearing half a dozen ligaments in her knee, along with her calf and hamstring tendons.
“It was just a blood-curdling scream like I have never heard,” Kaitlin’s mother Pam Fregulia said.
Kaitlin felt the pain for about 10 seconds. After that, she only felt the shock and sadness of knowing that something had gone seriously wrong.
“It was a long car ride home, thinking to myself,” Kaitlin said.
On the team bus, Kaitlin watched the video of how her injury played out. In the car, she told her mother a devastating message.
“Mom, my knee is finished,” Kaitlin told her mother.
At the time of her injury, Kaitlin had already earned a starting role on the Beach, being named a part of the Big West All-Freshman team in 2016.
Her career was progressing seamlessly, but it was about to become an immense challenge.
Kaitlin’s leg suffered so much internal bleeding due to her injury that surgery had to be delayed two months. She finally went under the knife during the winter break.
While most celebrated the holidays, Kaitlin said she struggled emotionally, but as an athlete, she always used to possess remarkable physical strength.
Surgery left her unable to walk for six weeks, which she said prevented her from maintaining her athletic identity.
“Seeing all my muscle deteriorate was pretty degrading,” Fregulia said. “Having to learn to walk again was very degrading.”
Recovery also hampered Kaitlin’s academics. She wore a straight-leg brace for six weeks of the spring 2018 semester, making getting around campus a grueling and sometimes almost impossible effort. Such impediments forced her to drop two of her classes which, according to her mother, took a heavy toll on her.
“She strives to be an all-American,” Pam Fregulia said. “That’s part of her goal.”
Junior defender Kaitlin Fregulia and junior goalkeeper Marta Alamany Sanchez (left), collide after a shot on goal from Penn State. Fregulia looks down the field as Long Beach State gets offensive against Penn State, Aug. 30. Fregulia’s knee brace on her right knee is the last part of her recovery since being injured in 2017. Austin Brumblay / Daily Forty-Niner.
Kaitlin defines herself not only by her studies and her athleticism but also by her relationship with her teammates. The injury disrupted that relationship during the 2017 and 2018 seasons due to her inability to travel with the team.
“That was, obviously, super hard to not be able to be with the team in those moments,” Kaitlin said. “At times I did, obviously, feel a little lonely.”
Even when she returned to practice, Kaitlin was not part of full drills. She missed the chemistry that team drills help build.
“I was always doing work off to the side or doing rehab, so missing that stuff was a little upsetting,” Kaitlin said.
The slow pace of her recovery tormented her. She began to question whether she would ever be the athlete she once was.
“At times I felt like I wasn’t trying hard enough or doing enough to be successful,” she said.
Early in 2018, Kaitlin and her mom made a decision that changed the defender’s outlook: they began filming her physical therapy exercises.
The gradual nature of rehab prevented her from noticing the strength she was regaining.
The videos changed that.
“Now I can look back and I can see how far I’ve come,” Kaitlin said.
“She’s more mature now,” Ingrassia said. “Going through an injury like that does wonders for your discipline.”
Kaitlin builds confidence with each new milestone in her recovery, already recognizing the growth gained through her struggle.
“I feel like it really helped me grow maturity-wise, being super supportive off the field even if I’m not playing,” she said.
Although she has regained her starting role, Kaitlin still undergoes treatment after games and practices. Her journey is far from over, but that might be a good thing for anyone who is excited to see her reach her full potential.
“I have no doubt that she’s gonna be huge for our program,” Ingrassia said.