After illness, soccer player leads in scoring

Junior Jules Blank is second in goals, after missing her sophomore season due to illness.

Junior forward Jules Blank (right) attempts to keep the ball in play during the Owls’ 2-1 loss to Saint Joseph’s on Aug. 17 at the Temple Sports Complex. | LUKE SMITH / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Jules Blank woke up one morning in December 2016 with dozens of rashes.

Doctors initially didn’t know what ailed the junior forward. They thought Blank had a severe allergic reaction to an antibiotic and developed rheumatoid and inflammatory arthritis.

About six months after Blank developed the condition, doctors still hadn’t cleared her to return to play. Blank decided to take time off from soccer during her sophomore season in Fall 2017, receiving a redshirt year. Finally in October 2017, Blank was able to do basic activities, like running and kicking a ball. After completing basic drills, Blank could work on her conditioning and get back into the weight room.

Blank rejoined the team last spring, but her condition nearly ended career.

“I had to find out what hurt and what didn’t because it was day by day,” Blank said. “Since there wasn’t necessarily a specific illness, it was kind of how I felt. One day, I felt great. One day, I felt like crap.”

This season, Blank is tied for second on the team with two goals with senior forward Kerri McGinley – behind sophomore forward Emma Wilkins’s team-high of four. Blank scored her first collegiate goal during Temple’s 2-1 loss to Saint Joseph’s on Aug. 17.

During her freshman campaign in at the Temple Sports Complex in Fall 2016, Blank played in 19 games and started four. She said getting a lot of playing time during her freshman year prepared her to take on a bigger role this season.

“Playing my freshman year, it just got me adjusted to the speed and tempo,” Blank said. “It definitely exposed me to what I was getting myself into and getting used to the style of playing and [coach] Seamus [O’Connor’s] coaching in comparison to old coaches I had.”

O’Connor said Blank has progressed a lot since her freshman year, adjusting to the speed and physicality of Division I soccer.

“Spending a year out just makes you very hungry because her career, at times we thought it was over,” O’Connor said. “That year was so serious at times. I think coming back now, she just has a much better attitude in terms of not being as stressed out about making mistakes or not being as worried about this or that because she knows how close she came to her career being over.”

Blank’s second goal of the season came during Temple’s 2-0 win against Sacred Heart University on Aug. 24 at the TSC. Blank scored on a header assisted by McGinley. NCAA soccer ranked Blank’s goal as the second-best play of the week.

“I saw Kerri coming down the sideline, and we usually do a cut back,” Blank said. “I knew she was somehow going to get the ball across whether she took it or not. I saw it bounce off her cleat, and all I saw was the ball and the goal. There was nothing else. I was just thinking to put it in the back of the net.”

Blank has started in six of seven games this season. She earned her place in the starting lineup by giving all her effort before the season started. She worked on her conditioning, dribbling and knowledge of the team’s formations.

“I had to make sure I always knew what I was supposed to be doing,” Blank said. “I think the biggest thing was working off the ball and taking what [coach] told me freshman year and making sure I applied it to what we’re doing now.”

Despite not having scored a goal before this season, O’Connor expected her to become a scoring threat for the Owls this season because of her accolades in high school.

At Archbishop Ryan High School in Northeast Philadelphia, Blank was the second woman to have her jersey retired after setting the school’s all-time record with 83 goals. Her senior year, Blank was named Philadelphia Catholic League MVP.

“It’s just realization of potential,” O’Connor said. “The talent has always been there. She’s just an absolute deadly striker when you get her in the penalty box. When you get her a chance in the box, she’s just an absolutely tremendous finisher under pressure.”

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