Rush sophomore proves to be top scorer in Public League play

Despite a second head injury, nothing is stopping Aarin Neilson from scoring high for her team.

After returning from a concussion, Aarin Neilson (right) has scored nine goals in five games for Benjamin Rush Academy this year. PHOTO: TODD CORABI

Just imagine if Aarin Neilson was able to play a full season.

Neilson is a sophomore at Benjamin Rush Academy and the talented forward who sat out her freshman year to focus on school work was determined to get on the pitch for her sophomore season.

The problem was, a concussion suffered in a car accident last winter left her with a second head injury. Doctors are very careful about clearing a player to return following a second concussion, so she wasn’t able to get on the field until two weeks ago.

“I had my first concussion when I was playing soccer, so they didn’t clear me right away,” Neilson said. “It was hard, especially when the team wasn’t playing great. I wanted to help. But I couldn’t play until they said I could. I was really happy when I got cleared.”

Once she got cleared, it was off to the races.

In five games, Neilson netted nine goals. One of her tallies was in Friday’s 5–2 loss to Girls High in a first-round playoff game. The setback ended the Knights’ chances of winning a Public League championship, but they’ll look to win a Public League Class AAA championship on Friday when they meet Frankford.

The Pioneers will have to find a way to slow Neilson down if they hope to beat the Knights.

While Neilson has only a few games at Rush under her belt, she’s been competing in the Future Players Academy, a competitive soccer club in Philadelphia that plays year round, in both indoor and outdoor leagues.

“Playing for the Future Players Academy really helped me,” Neilson said. “The players in that league take it very seriously. The players are really good. I think it was a lot easier to score in high school than it was with (Future Players Academy).”

Skill-wise, Neilson was exactly what Knights coach Todd Corabi needed.

But she didn’t do it alone. It helped that her teammates were very gracious about her joining the team.

“I’m pretty shy, so when I got here, they were great,” Neilson said of her teammates. “They were really accommodating with me, they made it much better. I was really happy about that.”

And they were happy to have her, which was evident when the team played Olney two weeks ago.

Due to tie-breaking scenarios, the Knights needed to beat the Trojans by four goals to get a better seed in the playoffs. Neilson netted four goals, and the Knights won 6–1 to grab the better berth.

“I think the reason I’m playing well is my speed,” Neilson said. “I’m very fast. I try to use that to help me score.”

When she’s not playing sports, she’s on her feet learning new dance moves. Dance is her subject of choice at Rush, where she has dabbled in modern dance, as well as tap, ballet and jazz.

“My favorite is hip hop because of the music and the movement, like how free it is, it’s OK to make up movements,” Neilson said. “I like all kinds of dance, but hip hop has been my favorite.”

And while hip hop might hit all the right notes, it’s another dance that makes her a better soccer player.

“Ballet helps the most with soccer,” Neilson said. “I think ballet makes you stronger, too. They all help, but ballet is the best for that.”

Next year, Neilson might transform her athletic abilities into playing another sport.

“I love Rush because they have a lot of good teams and I love a lot of sports,” the East Oak Lane resident said. “Tennis, track and field, swimming, volleyball and basketball are all sports I like and next year I might try volleyball. I’m not sure, I love soccer the most, but I play that all year long, it might be better for me to try another sport. I wouldn’t be trying it because I’ve played it before, but it might be better to play it for high school.”

Then again, she’s a soccer player through and through.

She intends on playing soccer all year, with hopes of getting even better for her junior and senior seasons

Right now, her focus is on beating Frankford, and she’s still hoping to get revenge on a team that ended the Knights’ Public League championship hopes this year.

“I really want to beat Girls High,” she admitted. “I want to beat them because they beat us. If I play next year, that’s what I want to do.” ••