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After missing six months of school with serious illness, Jenny Cape scores three goals at state for champion Brookfield Central

By Andrew Gruman , 06/18/17, 12:15AM CDT

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Jenny Cape doesn't usually take free kicks

But in the waning moments of the WIAA Division 1 state championship game June 17, the junior forward stepped up to the ball and drilled a goal from roughly 30 yards out for her third goal of the state tournament.

There were plenty of smiles throughout Uihlein Soccer Park after Brookfield Central's girls soccer team sealed the state title minutes later, but nobody was grinning wider than Cape.

Less than a year after being left to question her future at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, Cape was a state championship hero. 

"Six months ago, I was spending my entire day in a hospital bed," Cape said. "Walking laps around the ward was the most exercise that I got. To be on this team and in the state championship is indescribable.

"Honestly, I just can't stop smiling. It was just so much fun. To be out here with my best friends, it is unbelievable." 

Overcoming the odds

Cape was on her way to a basketball open gym in September when she fainted in her driveway. 

She went to her personal physician for a blood test. The results immediately set off red flags and Cape was sent to the emergency room.  

The eventual diagnosis was aplastic anemia, an illness in which the body stops producing new blood cells. Cape needed a bone marrow transplant, which she received from her brother in November, causing her to spend the entire month in the hospital.

With her immune system weak, Cape couldn't be around groups of people and was prevented from attending school. 

Brookfield Central principal Brett Gruetzmacher learned of Cape's condition in late September and helped facilitate a plan to help her keep up with her academics from home until she was able to return to class the final week of March.

"She is an absolutely top-notch student," Gruetzmacher said. "It was like, 'Well, she'll do calculus from her bed.' That's just the kind of kid she is.

"For having a bone marrow transplant just six months ago to where she is now, even if you put that in a Hollywood movie it would be, 'Oh, come on. That's too much.' But here she is. To come back to school from what she endured is awesome, but to be able to get in the condition to play the way she plays and cover the land she covers is really inspirational. She has as much guts as any kind I've ever seen. It is pretty special to see her do what she did." 

Return to the field

Having already lost her junior season on the basketball court, Cape set her mind on returning to Lancers soccer team. 

"It was kind of hard," Cape said. "It all happened so quickly. Within a month, I was diagnosed and everything happened. It kind of shattered my outlook on everything. It was hard to stay positive.

"But I had three goals in the hospital, and one of them was to get back on the field and to be ready for the season. I didn't want this one little rough patch to stop us from a really promising season." 

After he heard the goal was for Cape to return for the start of the soccer season, Brookfield Central coach Dan Makal was unsure what to expect from the 2016 second-team All Greater Metro Conference selection.

But there she was ready to go at the first day of practice, just a week after returning to school. She passed all the fitness tests provided by Makal to ensure the staff she was in a safe place to play. 

"I thought that was advantageous," Makal said. "How realistic could that be? I tried to be as positive as I could with it. Then to see the growth that she made and her desire to want to be back with her teammates, I think that has been the biggest thing.

"The physical fitness part comes secondary, but it helps when you have your best friends on the team. They want her to do well. She wants to do well for herself. She puts so much pressure on herself, but when she just goes out an executes it is brilliant."

Cape slowly built her stamina back up and became a force for the Lancers, scoring 14 goals with four assists in the regular season. 

"Throughout the season, it has been a bumpy road," Cape said. "It has been kind of frustrating to not play how I am used to playing. I would get tired more easily. It has been frustrating to me, but as this season has gone on I've been seeing so much improvement from myself in how I have been playing.

"Am I back to 100 percent? I'm not quite sure, but I'm getting there."

Playing a part

If Cape wasn't 100 percent at the state tournament, it was certainly hard to tell.

She scored three of Brookfield Central's seven goals, including recording the first score of both the semifinal and the championship. 

Cape gave the Lancers a 1-0 lead in the semifinal when she bent in a corner kick just over three minutes in. Then in the title game, it was a left-footed strike - she's right-footed - from the corner of the 18-yard box that put Brookfield Central on the scoreboard. 

"She's just Jenny," Makal said. "She loves to dance in pregame and just be crazy. Just letting her be loose has helped everybody else.

"Then she's just played so well. We are kind of riding it. We wanted her to get healthy by the end of the year and then just do what she could. Half of a Jenny Cape is fantastic."