Leader Blues

Monday, October 13, 2008

SPORTS > > Closing on a high note

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

It hasn’t always been easy, but it has proved to be rewarding.
Back in 2005, Jessica Beaver started her freshman year at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock on a soccer scholarship. Beaver had been the most talented player on her Jacksonville High School team, but the world of Division I soccer was new and sometimes overwhelming.
Four years later, Beaver, now a senior, is tied for fifth in the Sun Belt Conference in goals. She has also knocked home a pair of game-winning goals, good for fifth in the SBC.
“It was a lot to take in at first,” said Beaver, who played at JHS under longtime soccer coach Bill Vasquez. “In high school, a lot of the girls on that team had never even been on a team before, but it was nothing new for me because I had been on one team or another since I was 5.
“Coming in my freshman year, it was a lot faster game. Everyone had speed, and could move as fast as you.”
Beaver has been a starter all four years at UALR in a variety of positions, but is closing out her career strictly as a forward.
First-year UALR soccer coach Freddy Delgado said Beaver was already solid when he first joined the program, and has continued to develop during his short tenure.
“Jessie is having an excellent season,” Delgado said. “It started out a little rough. She was not quite where she needed to be physically when we started out, but I could see the potential there.
“She just gets better every day. She is a great leader for the team as well. She has a good balance of being serious but at the same time having fun. She’s probably the funniest player on our team. She’s quite a character.”
Beaver is one of only three seniors on this year’s Lady Trojan team, and their leadership has been invaluable to the new coach.
“They have the experience of being in this conference for four years,” Delgado said. “And the program has gotten better every year. They only won two conference games back in ’05, and to go from that to last season when they had their most success is a pretty good accomplishment. Success starts from the top down, and they have the rest of the team believing in the program.”
Beaver chose UALR over a variety of schools, including Delta State and Harding. She took an instant liking to the Lady Trojan program. It had the added advantage of keeping her close to her parents Kathy and Carl Beaver.
The Lady Trojans missed the Sun Belt tournament in her freshman season, but have made it both times since. The 2007 season ended historically for Beaver and her UALR teammates. In fact, they made history twice with one win.
The Lady Trojans had never beaten Middle Tennessee in school history, nor had they made it to the semifinal round of the conference tourney. That all changed when they downed the Lady Raiders in the quarterfinals in a dramatic shootout ending, but even that is not her most memorable performance.
For that, you have to go back to her senior year of high school, and a game against cross-town rival North Pulaski. It was that game in which Beaver recorded her only career high-school hat trick in a 3-1 win over the Lady Falcons.
Before her senior year of high school, most of Beaver’s high-school accolades came from basketball. She was a two-time all-conference selection and an all-state selection her senior year for the Lady Devils basketball team before earning all-conference in soccer her senior year, which earned her an invitation to the prestigious all-star game the following summer in Fayetteville.
She also played club soccer for the Searcy Crush, which earned a state title during her tenure.
Jacksonville High School athletic director Jerry Wilson has seen his share of college signees go through his program over his 20 years at the school, but said that a DI signee was fairly rare.
“She was always the epitome of a good student athlete,” Wilson said. “She was the type of person that could come out, and if you needed help in one sport or another, she could do it. She also got it done in the classroom. She just had a great attitude about everything – truly unique.”
Beaver graduated from JHS with a 3.6 grade point average.
This season may be her last to compete as a player, but her future plans will most likely have her on the soccer fields in the central Arkansas area. With a major in math and a minor in coaching, Beaver hopes to become a high-school math teacher and coach.
The self-described “homebody” wants to stay in the Little Rock area to begin her teaching and coaching career.
“I’ve been in sports all my life,” Beaver said. “Just because this is ending for me as a player doesn’t mean I want to stop. I like kids, and I like being involved.”
She is making the most of her senior year at UALR. Along with her 2008 Sun-Belt records, she currently sits 12th on the Lady Trojans’ all-time goals list with 10, and is 14th in career points with 24. Her highest ranking is in career shots, where she sits in eighth-place with 85 shots. All this with seven matches still left in the regular season.
As the ’08 Sun Belt soccer season winds down, the Lady Trojans are in the middle of the fight for one of the top-eight seeds required to reach the conference tournament, which will be held in Denton, Tx., on Nov. 5-8. Now 2-2 in league play, the Lady Trojans’ two-year streak of reaching the postseason is on the line, but Beaver remains confident.
“The last couple of practices, we’ve been refreshing things,” she said. “Not really changing anything, just using the same things but trying to make them better. We all feel like we should be 4-0 (in conf.) right now. We felt like we were the better team in the two that we lost, but we didn’t finish the way that we needed to. We’re going to stick to our game plan. We definitely have the team to make it.”
As for her career and her choice of school, she says there are no regrets.
“It’s been a rollercoaster ride,” Beaver said. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs, and it hasn’t always been easy. I feel like playing all four years is a pretty good accomplishment for me. Not everyone lasts.”
“But I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s definitely been worth it.”