The physical pain was excruciating. The mental anguish was worse.
For Rob Pannell, breaking a bone in his left foot against Army last March 3 in Cornell's second game of the season turned a promising senior year filled with dreams of a national championship and a Tewaaraton Award as the nation's top lacrosse player into an endless nightmare.
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"Devastating" is how Cornell coach Ben DeLuca described the moment when Pannell went down. "It was so tough to lose him. He was the heart and soul of our team, our captain, and he was off to a wonderful start."
Because Pannell never had missed a college game and never suffered a serious injury before, he was convinced he'd be a quick healer. He was determined to return for last spring's playoffs.
"A terrible decision on my part," the former Smithtown West star said. "I tried to come back but I hurt it again. I don't know if I broke it again, but it was extremely painful. I shouldn't have tried. I wasn't ready. That was me being a competitor, but I wound up having to tell my closest friends in the senior class that I couldn't come back."
The NCAA granted Pannell a fifth year of eligibility, but because the Ivy League does not permit redshirting, he could not graduate with his class. Instead, he had to withdraw from school and miss fall ball, and he could only return to Cornell for the 2013 spring semester.
"The injury is behind me and has been behind me for some time. I'm in the best shape I've ever been in," said Pannell, who turned down a job on Wall Street as well as an opportunity to play professional lacrosse for the Long Island Lizards, who made him the first overall selection in last year's Major League Lacrosse collegiate draft. He also could have transferred to another college for his final year of eligibility, perhaps even Virginia, where his brother James is a highly touted freshman this season.
"My loyalty to Cornell trumped everything," Pannell said. "A lot of guys would do anything to play one more year in college, and I had the chance to have one more year. Cornell is home for me. I love this place. I couldn't see myself going to any other university and I couldn't see myself having my career end with a broken foot."
Pannell made productive use of his time away from school. He worked out intensively, did an internship for his uncle, Jim Metzger -- a Hofstra lacrosse alumnus and donor who owns a finance company -- and spent some time in Uganda for an organization dedicated to using lacrosse to do community service and philanthropic work around the world.
Needless to say, he is raring to go for the sport and school he loves. Cornell, which also features former Long Island stars Steve Mock (Huntington) and Connor English (Manhasset), again has championship dreams. Pannell is considered a preseason Tewaaraton candidate, along with last year's winner, Peter Baum of Colgate, and two former Long Island standouts from St. Anthony's, Tom Schreiber (Princeton) and Will Manny (Massachusetts).
"I think he's a legitimate candidate," DeLuca said of Pannell's Tewaaraton chances, "and it would be a wonderful honor. But I know Rob is all about team goals."
He is 16 assists and 45 points away from becoming the all-time leader at Cornell in both categories. Those should be easily attainable milestones for Pannell, who has scored 252 points with 149 assists, but they hardly register on his priority list.
"The first reason I came back to Cornell is to win a national championship, Secondly, I came back to be a leader and teach the incoming freshman class what it's like to be a part of this program," Pannell said. "The Tewaaraton is always in the back of your mind, but I've already proven myself individually and no award will define my success."
Except maybe a national championship trophy.