For The Love Of The Game

By Iman Hamdan

 "At goalkeeper… number 29… Ashley Jett!"

In sync with the outburst of cheering fans, the University of Arizona senior and co-captain of the women's soccer team takes off running down the line of her teammates.

At the end, Jett stops and points towards the sky. This pre-game ritual highlights Jett's gratitude to compete in the game she loves.

During her soccer career, Jett has suffered two major injuries, one of which almost ended her playing days.

As a junior in high school, Jett sustained a back injury, and the first diagnosis revealed playing in college was not an option. But determination drove Jett to seek a second and third opinion. In doing so, Jett was able to treat her injury in order to compete once again.

The second injury Jett endured was a dislocated shoulder her sophomore year at Arizona. After undergoing surgery over spring break and aggressively persevering in rehab, Jett returned to the field two months ahead of schedule in the fall of 2010.

Head coach Lisa Oyen complimented Jett as being "very strong" when coping with her shoulder injury.

Jett came out a renewed player in the 2010 season as a junior, starting at goalkeeper 18 times. She also set the conference record of 104 saves and played every minute of the last 18 games of the season. Jett also managed to earn two shutout performances.

Her individual achievements as a player are matched by her ability to stand out as a team leader.

When describing her role as captain, Jett explains that she sets "an example on and off the field."

From a coach's perspective, Oyen appreciates Jett being "constantly connected" to her teammates and having "high expectations" all around.

Junior and co-captain Alex Smith credits Jett's ability to "calmly and clearly" communicate with the team.

Jett's leadership mentality follows her off the field as she participates in two programs established by the UA Athletic Department.

Through Peer Athletic Leaders, Jett along with other seasoned athletes, mentor incoming freshmen. She also serves as a representative on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

"We communicate with the athletic department and Greg Byrne, who's our AD," says Jett. "And we give them the athlete's perspective on what we can improve and things we can do around [McKale Memorial Center]."

Being part of the Arizona women's soccer program provides Jett with the unique experience of working with special needs individuals through a local youth soccer league.

The team partners up with a local group (V.I.P.) to put on an annual clinic for special needs soccer players in the Tucson community.

"We do different stations throughout the field of passing, dribbling, and showing them basic skills," she says. "We have pizza afterwards and hang out with them."

As Oyen watches the interactions between Jett and the V.I.P. players, she can see the love of soccer being shared between athletes of all skill levels. Oyen refers to the experience as "inspiring".

"I see the sincere passion, joy, and excitement in Ashley and the other girls as they interact with the players," Oyen says.

To the V.I.P. players, the Jett and her teammates are much more than just college athletes.

"The kids look to them as gods," says V.I.P. Coordinator Scott Hodgkinson. "We are so thankful for this opportunity and experience." The next clinic will be held in November.

Jett's community service does not end there.

In the past she has read to children, visited with the elderly, helped with Special Olympics basketball, and painted and assembled Ben's Bells to be distributed throughout the Tucson community.

It may seem like Jett has all the free time in the world, but her schedule is extremely demanding. She is taking 15-credited hours while in season, and will be graduating in the spring of 2012 with a bachelor's in marketing.

As much as Jett has enjoyed playing soccer for the last 17 years of her life, she is "ready for the real world." After graduating from UA she says she is considering going back to her home state of Texas to pursue a master's degree. She is also open to looking for internships.

Jett leaves incoming student-athletes with one piece of advice.

"Cherish every moment that you have," she says. "Regardless of how stressful, or how painful, or how tired you are from running sprints not everyone gets to do it. Cherish it as much as you can."

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