Last year, Mariya Fefilova joined California State University, Monterey Bay as an outside back for the women’s soccer team and encountered familiar circumstances for any freshman collegiate athlete. A 2014 Turlock High graduate who led her Bulldogs to three Central California Conference championships, Fefilova was a proverbial soccer star in high school who never had to worry about starting a game or how many minutes she would play.
Upon hitting the pitch with the Otters, however, Fefilova soon discovered that her teammates, as well as her soon-to-be opponents, were every bit as talented as she was and that she would have to earn her stripes at the college level.
“I came into the season a little bit shy at first,” Fefilova said. “My coaches’ goal was to get me out of my shell and get a little more aggressive on the field against the upperclassmen and other teams, and to not shy away from playing my best.”
After the initial shock involved with transitioning from high school to college competition, Fefilova emerged as one of the few freshman Otters to earn significant playing time through the season with ten games to her name. She shared time with upperclassmen, but was able to earn experience as she was moved from outside back to forward before finishing the season at outside middle.
“Being a freshman, even just ten games is quite a bit,” Fefilova said. “I’m happy with my time on the field as a freshman. I’m thankful that I didn’t redshirt and just sit on the bench and watch.”
Had it not been for a lingering ear infection and a minor ankle injury, Fefilova would have played in more games for the Otters in 2014. Still, the former Bulldog was content with her time on the pitch and was looking forward to the upcoming 2015 season where she was to be moved back to outside back and expecting much more playing time.
But as plans usually unfold, Fefilova’s hit a speed bump three and a half months ago during the spring season when she tore her MCL. Now, less than a month away from the start of the season, Fefilova finds herself in a race to recover and get into shape in time to pass her required fitness tests and join the Otters for the beginning of preseason play.
“With a torn MCL, it grows back itself but it really depends on how your body recovers. So nobody really knows how long it will take,” Fefilova said. “If I can pass the fitness test everything else will play out from there.”
Fefilova is currently undergoing physical therapy twice a week and working out on her own as she attempts to come back from an injury that typically takes four to six months to recover from completely. Her motivation is to help an Otters team that finished 7-9 overall and 4-7 in the California Collegiate Athletic Association last season.
“My focus was and always is to come off of practice, or to come off the field, feeling like I gave my all and played my best,” Fefilova said. “We’re trying to climb up the ladder and see if we can be one of those top five teams and go into the NCAA Tournament.”
The first of three fitness tests will be administered in roughly a month’s time. In order to compete in 2015 Fefilova will have to pass two of the three, but failing the first of the series would put her preseason availability in jeopardy which would in turn affect her status during the regular season. Regardless of the odds and challenges in front of her, however, Fefilova is determined and confident that she will be able to continue her growth as a soccer player for CSU Monterey Bay as a sophomore.
“I expect to come back by the time the season is here,” Fefilova said.