Jess Jecko’s career comes full-circle from Syracuse fan to star goalkeeper

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first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on November 11, 2015 at 10:13 pm Contact Liam: [email protected] The Jeckos were rabid Syracuse fans and traveled the hour from their home to watch the Orange play. Syracuse players often remained on the field at J.S. Coyne Stadium to sign autographs for fans. Jess Jecko, then a high schooler, was a mainstay among them — leaning over the handrail of the bleachers to say hi to head coach Ange Bradley.Jecko played the sport in high school, and she viewed Syracuse’s players as her heroes. Playing field hockey at her dream school was just that — a dream.I was such a pest after every game. Ange probably didn’t even know who I was but I loved talking to her. Actually, she definitely knew — I was the annoying fangirl.Jess JeckoIt became a reality for Jecko, who caught the eye of Bradley. Now her idols have become her teammates, and Jecko is leading No. 1 seed Syracuse (17-1, 6-0 Atlantic Coast) from the cage as the Orange begin its quest for a national championship Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at J.S. Coyne Stadium. Jecko has largely contributed to a 0.94 goals allowed per game average — fourth fewest in the country.A lot of SU’s success is credited to Jecko — a player that wouldn’t even be in Division I had Bradley not taken a chance on her.“It’s been a life-changer for her to grow from that girl,” Jecko’s father, Jim Jecko, said of his daughter learning from Bradley, “to one of the best goalies in the country.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textGrowing up without youth field hockey programs in her area, the Clinton, New York native split time in soccer nets with her twin sister Vanessa. As an eighth grader moving into high school, Jecko realized that only one Jecko could play goalie. When the middle school field hockey coach asked her to play, it provided a solution.Jecko would still practice with her sister. The pair designated goals with cones set up across from each other and would shoot a mini soccer ball back and forth, taking turns making saves.She worried if field hockey had been the wrong choice. The high school team she played on was terrible. But Meghan Kempeny, her high school coach, saw glimpses of what could be and dedicated time before and after practice to send extra shots Jecko’s way.Riley Bunch | Staff PhotographersTalented field hockey players join club or future’s teams before college to enhance their skills and continue training in the offseason. The nearest team that wanted Jecko was stationed six hours from her home, an unreasonable distance. And when other field hockey stars around the country began getting recruited, Jecko fell at a distinct disadvantage.Then-Syracuse assistant coach Lynn Farquhar noticed Jecko — a regular at SU field hockey clinics and camps — and invited her during her junior year to play in a tournament. Jecko was placed on “Team 44,” comprised of Syracuse recruits. The pieces began to fall into place.During one of the countless Sunday clinics hosted by SU, Bradley pulled Jecko into one of the corners of Manley Field House. The two talked about general goalkeeper duties and expectations before Bradley set up a goal, directed Jecko between the posts and fired shots on her faster and harder than Jim Jecko had ever seen.The session ended with the Jeckos puzzled and Bradley’s interest piqued. Jecko had stopped more than a good deal of shots and impressed everyone, even herself.Utica College and SUNY Oneonta offered but Syracuse stood alone. Eventually James Madison offered. Still, Jecko was hooked on the Orange.Sitting in Syracuse SummerStart classes, Jecko felt in awe seeing basketball players Jerami Grant and Brittney Sykes surrounding her. Walking around campus she’d wave to athletes. Bradley said she was more of a fan at times freshman year than a player.Jim Jecko said there were times during her freshman year that his daughter sometimes thought about her lack of experience and questioned whether she could play at the high level. The first season became a “blur,” according to Jecko, and she spent her time on the sideline.A failed conditioning test in the spring of her freshman year jumpstarted Jecko to get in shape and she began to take field hockey more seriously, knowing the starting spot in net was open next season.To see someone who’s lost 50 pounds since she started here and finished here, it’s life changing and a transformation. She’s really special.Ange Bradley“To see someone who’s lost 50 pounds since she started here and finished here, it’s life changing and a transformation,” Bradley said. “She’s really special.” Now as a senior she provides her defense with charted shooting tendencies and notes on each opponent. After falling 1-0 to Connecticut in the 2014 National Championship in November, Jecko’s preparation and scouting for next season began weeks later.This summer, Michele Jecko left her daughter a list labeled “things needed for senior year” intending to pick up school supplies. Jecko interpreted the list loosely, penciling in “national championship” right above “shampoo.”Against North Carolina on Sunday, Jecko dove to the ground to clear a shot, but the ball squirted away and UNC was able to convert in overtime. As heartbreaking as that goal was — giving SU its only loss — it didn’t change the course of Syracuse’s season. The Orange is still seeded No. 1. The road to the final four still goes through Coyne Stadium.It’s a position that Jecko has helped put her team in. She used to be the fan waving to coaches and star athletes. Now, she’s the star.“As a senior it hits you,” Jecko said. “…This is it — everything I’ve trained for.” Commentslast_img

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