By Michael Lewis
KINGS POINT, N.Y. – Who knows what type of season Cody Kessler might have had for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy had it not rained on the first day of practice in the summer?
The Mariners were supposed to train at the beach. Instead, the inclement weather forced the team to train indoors in Libiertz Gymnasium. Ironically, it was a wet floor that led to an injury as the junior forward slipped into the bleachers. Kessler broke the scaphoid bone in his right wrist. He needed surgery, had a screw put in and was sidelined five weeks.
"It hasn't been my best season," he said. "I needed to change something. And I think I have changed whatever I needed to change."
Indeed he has.
Kessler certainly is making up for it and then some with some memorable and productive performances in the post-season.
The Delmar, N.Y. native had a hand, or rather a foot, in all four goals during the Landmark Conference tournament last week. As a substitute, Kessler scored one goal, set up a second and was fouled for a penalty kick that led to the third goal in the 3-0 semifinal triumph over Drew University on Nov. 2.
Three days later, Kessler was playing offensive hero again this time as a starter. He scored the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over host and regular-season champion Catholic University. Not surprisingly, the Delmar, N.Y. native was named the Landmark offensive player of the week
"I like playing during the day," he said. "For some reason I am more awake."
Unfortunately for Kessler, the Mariners' first-round NCAA Division III first-round game at Rutgers University-Camden is set for Camden, N.J. when the time of day is darker -- at 5 p.m. Saturday. The winner takes on the victor of the 7:30 p.m. encounter between Wesleyan and Misericordia game at 5 p.m. Sunday.
But he certainly won't complain because he is playing his best soccer of the season.
It certainly wasn't easy coming back from that injury.
"I definitely felt it with my conditioning," Kessler said. "It took me some time in getting back playing soccer."
For his first two weeks back, Kessler played with a hard cast on his right arm with a foam pad on it.
"It helps but it definitely was difficult to get used to having a club on my arm," he said.
Having a cast on an arm affects a players' balance and then some.
"Not only that. Because I had the surgery and everything, I was always worried about falling on it or someone hitting it," Kessler said. "There were times where the team would grab my wrist and take a hold of it. It was painful. Also the balancing, when you're trying to shoot, it's a lot different having a big weight on one arm."
It took a while for him to become comfortable. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that Kessler felt comfortable on the field. "I am able to hold people off now and not worried about it," he said.
Now the opposition is worried about Kessler.
Against Drew the Bethlehem Central High School graduate came on as substitute and made an immediate few subs do at any level of the game with his involvement in all three goals.
"I was glad I was part of helping my team get further on in the conference," he said. "Over the past few weeks, I hadn't gotten as much playing time as I would have liked. But I was extremely glad I was able to do my part in helping the team because they were doing a great job during the season. I definitely felt that I needed to pick it up and pull my own weight.
Kessler continued to pull his own weight against Catholic in the Landmark final, providing the lone goal of the match, chipping the goalkeeper at 52:20.
Asked if he had planned it that way, Kessler replied, "I'm still trying to figure it out. I meant to shoot it. I know that. Whether I knew subconsciously where the goalie was, I didn't see him. I'm not sure if I tried to go near post with it because that was open. I just happened to go far post. I'm still trying to figure it out."
Photo: Cody Kessler enjoyed a career day in the 3-0 win over Drew. Photo by Shawn Antonelli