Since starting her soccer career at age 4 or 5, Cheshire High School senior Izzy Pellegrino has developed a relentless drive to pursue the ball and help her team come out on top. However, back on Oct. 7, 2019, a non-contact injury led to her needing to take her longest break from the game she loves.
As a junior playing against North Haven, Pellegrino tore her anterior cruciate ligament and medial and lateral meniscus in a non-contact sequence.
“I was just running and planted wrong,” reflected Pellegrino. “I heard a pop and knew that something wasn’t right, but I was able to walk off the field. I wanted to come back in the game, but they wouldn’t let me.”
After her diagnosis, Pellegrino joined teammates Caroline Campion and Olivia Jones with season-ending knee injuries on the 2019 Rams. Cheshire (14-4-2) overcame the setbacks to capture the Housatonic Division title and win a game in the Southern Connecticut Conference and Class LL tournaments, but Pellegrino recalls that it was hard to not be able to help her team on the field.
“My teammates made me feel a lot better,” stated Pellegrino.
“We were already in a tough spot with injuries that year, but it was hard to not have Izzy on the field,” reflected Cheshire Head Coach Kylee McIntosh. “It was heartbreaking for the team, but also tough for me. Izzy is a great kid and getting hurt is a tough position for someone 16 years old.”
Pellegrino underwent surgery in December 2019, but then had to spend the next eight months recuperating.
“The rehabilitation process was tough because of COVID. I had to do a lot of work on my own,” recalled Pellegrino. “When I finally got ready to play again, I had greater appreciation for the game and needed it in my life.”
Last summer, she was cleared in time to play one game for the Vale Soccer Club (formerly Academic Futebol Club) and then prepare to play her fall season at CHS.
“I wasn’t nervous at all about getting back out there. I was walking two weeks after surgery,” explained Pellegrino, who was asked to wear a knee brace this year. “I didn’t like the brace at first, but nobody enjoys it. It limits your mobility, but I don’t think it made that much of a difference to my game.”
After overcoming her injury, Pellegrino helped CHS girls’ soccer persevere through the pandemic to post an 8-4 record in 2020.
“I was thankful just to be playing,” reflected Pellegrino, a four-year starter. “Despite the pandemic, the game stayed the same. I didn’t notice a difference until you came to the sideline and needed to put on a mask. I did stink to not be able to have a big crowd at the games.”
Pellegrino played a key defensive role alongside senior tri-captains Danielle Ellis and Aish Benzy and sophomore Ella Crerar. The unit helped senior tri-captain and three-year starting goalkeeper Seymone Rosenberg earn five shutouts.
“It was great to play with everyone,” stated Pellegrino. “Seymone is definitely someone you can count on. It feels great to have a good goalkeeper.”
McIntosh enjoyed seeing Pellegrino return healthy and use her versatility to play at center and wing back.
“She is so easy-going,” said McIntosh. “I like to be up front with the girls about positions, but Izzy said ‘Coach, I don’t care where I play. I just want to be on the field.’”
Offensively, Pellegrino tallied two goals and two assists in 2020. Facing Shelton on Oct. 17, she assisted on the opening goal by sophomore Gabby Tirado and then scored the eventual game-winner on a free kick to propel the Rams to a 2-1 victory.
Cheshire hadn’t beaten the Gaelettes since 2017.
“That (victory) felt so good,” Pellegrino said. “We had lost a lot to them before that (game).”
On Nov. 9, Pellegrino netted another free kick in a 7-0 shutout of North Haven.
“As a defender, you can’t move up inside the box often, so every chance I get, I take it (my shot) to the goal,” said Pellegrino.
Before scoring against North Haven, Pellegrino was among 13 seniors introduced to the crowd before their final home game.
“I’m going miss the energy on the team,” said Pellegrino. “We were excited for every game.”
CHS rode a three-game win streak into the SCC Division A final, but fell 1-0 to Mercy at Xavier in Middletown.
“It was a bittersweet experience. It stunk that we lost, but I hadn’t been in a championship game before, so it felt great to get there,” stated Pellegrino. “I was really proud of everyone to make it through the season. It was a team effort on and off the field.”
Pellegrino feels that her soccer passion comes from her family’s background in the sport. Growing up, she developed the versatility to contribute on defense and offense.
“I love the game,” said Pellegrino. “You definitely get more glory for scoring goals, but defense is key to the sport, as well.”
In joining the CHS program in 2017, she made an immediate impact, tallying five goals and two assists to help the Rams win the Housatonic Division crown.
“I wasn’t expecting to be a varsity starter in my freshman year,” recalled Pellegrino. “It felt great to contribute and help the team.”
As a sophomore, she used her skill set to contribute on defense and the forward line.
“Izzy is physical, athletic, and strong,” said McIntosh.
After being coached by James Luis as an underclassman, Pellegrino felt that there was a smooth transition to playing for McIntosh in the last two years.
“I love her as a person and a coach,” said Pellegrino. “She is one of my favorite coaches of all time.”
While Pellegrino ended her high school career last fall, she looks forward to participating with her Vale club team this year. Many local girls also compete for the program.
“I’m happy to keep playing with my Cheshire teammates,” said Pellegrino. “We’ve known each other for a long time. It (the experience) has built up our relationships.”
Since Connecticut has put a pause on organized sports through Jan. 19, Pellegrino hopes to play again later this month or in the near future.
Right now, she doesn’t think that she will play varsity soccer in college, but plans to keep up with the game.
“The club level is pretty competitive, so I’ll probably look into playing there,” stated Pellegrino.