Instant impact: Smith steps into starting role in first season at Humboldt State
As a true freshman, Jensen Smith started every match for the Humboldt State women’s soccer team during the 2015 season. But for the former Vikings defender, the rare feat of making an immediate impact at the collegiate level almost didn’t happen.
“It was amazing,” Smith said. “Every little thing fell into place, and I really couldn’t have asked for a better start to my collegiate career.”
Humboldt State picked up Smith late in the recruiting process last spring after four standout seasons at South Tahoe. As a result, the three-time state champion wasn’t sure how much playing time she would get during her first season — or if she would see the field at all.
While competing for time against more experienced players, Smith considered redshirting her first season at Humboldt State. She had until the Lumberjacks’ exhibition match against Cal State Bakersfield on Aug. 21 to decide — and it was a conversation with her mother, Robyn, that led to her choosing to play right away.
“You’re not the kind of player that takes a season off,” Robyn told her daughter the night before Humboldt State’s season debut. “It seems like you’d miss out on something.”
Armed with her mother’s words, Smith met with the coaching staff to let them know her decision. She had elected to play out her first collegiate season at Humboldt State.
“We were chatting and she said, ‘I understand that I might not play, but if you need me to play, play me and you won’t regret it,’” Humboldt State head coach Paul Karver said of the meeting. “She knew what she wanted.”
The next night, Smith was subbed into the Lumberjacks match against the Div. I Roadrunners in the first half. And it didn’t take long for her coaches to realize they had a special player.
“She was very determined to show us her quality, and it was at that point that we really knew what we had,” Karver said. “We were excited.”
A little less than three weeks later, Smith was in the starting lineup for Humboldt State’s regular season opener against Western Washington. On their home field the Lumberjacks beat the Vikings 2-1, and Smith played all 90 minutes in the victory.
“I was always super nervous, but when my name was on the sheet it was a great feeling,” Smith said. “I had to prove to them that I could play, that I wanted to be here and that I was willing to work as hard as I can to keep starting.”
After starting in the opener, Smith remained in the Lumberjacks’ first 11 for her entire freshman season opposite senior Jillian Andersen. And while making the transition to the pace of the collegiate game, she showed a similar calm control in the back synonymous with her play at South Tahoe.
“She took a lot of situations that can be very hectic and crazy — especially for a freshman — and made them very simple. That’s one of the main reasons why she’s so special,” Karver said. “We asked her to do a lot of things — defend, organize, and attack and open up the game with passing. She was vital.”
As a true freshman, she played 1,686 minutes in 18 contests for the Div. II program that competes in the California Collegiate Athletic Association. While her game has improved, Smith said the biggest change has come in her mindset and approach on the pitch.
“I’m not nervous when I play anymore,” Smith said. “I know what I’m going to do before I pass the ball — how I see the game and how I play the game has changed the most.”
Humboldt State finished the regular season 9-7-2 overall, and ended up one point shy of the postseason. Needing a win in their last match of the regular season, the Lumberjacks let a halftime lead slip away in a 2-1 loss at Cal State San Bernardino.
“It was so disappointing being so close,” Smith said. “Next year we’re just hoping to make the playoffs and working really hard for it.”
Looking toward her second season at Humboldt State, Smith aims to improve her communication and playing intermediate passes to link play from the back. As her coach sees it, there’s little limit to what she can accomplish as her career moves forward.
“She’s the type of kid that’s going to continue to work hard,” Karver said. “When players work hard, they become better — and that’s what we need to have out of a person of her caliber. We were very pleased with her this year, and the challenge is how does she make that her job every single day.”
After a stellar freshman season, it’s onto a new challenge for Smith.