When most Loyola athletes arrive on campus, they have to learn to balance academics with their practice, training and game schedule. Graduate transfer Jessica Cerda is already familiar with how to walk the line of a student-athlete and she’s bringing that experience to the Loyola women’s basketball team.
Cerda has played in all four games this season and is making an impact. She’s played just over 12 minutes per game but is currently the third highest scorer on the team with seven points per game.
Cerda said she loved her time at Chicago State University, where she missed her sophomore year due to a knee injury, but as she went into her final year of basketball and started looking for graduate schools to study social work, she needed a change.
“I graduated from Chicago State and I feel like I spent the time I needed to there. I learned a lot and grew a lot as a person. I just wanted a different environment,” Cerda said. “Loyola is a beautiful school. It’s really nice. I love it here. So I thought it was a perfect fit for the next stage of my life.”
Cerda said the transition wasn’t as difficult as she thought it was going to be — she worried her quiet demeanor would make it hard for her to adjust. The most difficult transition she faced was switching from undergraduate studies to graduate school.
“It’s a lot more work. It’s a lot more time consuming and trying to juggle it with basketball made it a major adjustment,” Cerda said. “I think I figured it out pretty quickly so it made the transition a little easier. Plus, you have your teammates, so those are automatic friends, you don’t really have to go searching for too much.”
The transition to graduate school can be compared to starting as a first-year in college. Cerda said adjusting to Loyola was easier than when she first arrived at Chicago State.
“It was harder as a [first-year]. I’m four years more mature now so I’m able to talk to people a little better. I broke out of my shell a lot,” Cerda said. “Definitely when I started going to college it’s a completely different ballpark than high school. You have to adjust to a new team, new friends, new style of play because college basketball is way different than high school basketball. So it’s a lot more adjusting, especially when you are that young opposed to now.”
The team welcomed Cerda with open arms. She said they all get along and it’s like a big family — they all want to make sure the other is doing well.
“We really enjoy each other as people and that translates to basketball. We always want to see each other succeed,” Cerda said. “I think that’s really important because a lot of teams sometimes have inner conflicts and then it gets in the way of basketball. The team dynamic is really, really good. We have a lot of people who just generally click.”
One of the the aspects Cerda said she thinks she brought to the team was a general sense of maturity. She said her teammates joke and call her “mom,” which helps bring a sense of comfort to the team.
“I feel like I’m fairly mature. Still, [I’m] trying to work my way through a lot of different things,” Cerda said. “But I think just bringing that level of maturity and that mindset. I want my teammates to be able to come talk to me for anything that they need. Whether it’s basketball related or not.”
Cerda was fortunate to get a fifth year of eligibility after an unfortunate turn of events in her early collegiate career. She’s had four knee surgeries since her sophomore year of high school with three ACL tears and a torn meniscus. Because of these injuries she was sidelined for a total of 20 months.
“I’ve been able to play two seasons fairly healthy,” Cerda said. “I’m hoping this is my third … Third season [and] last season to be as healthy as I can be.”
Although her injuries limited her playing time, Cerda said it has helped her become a more humble and mature player and gain a new perspective.
“It’s very mentally draining going through that. It definitely matured me a lot,” Cerda said. “It made me realize that you can’t control everything and you just have to roll with the punches. It helped me realize you just have to take whatever comes your way and make the best of it.”
Cerda said her injuries have brought her an overwhelming sense of positivity and she has been able to utilize her optimistic outlook to help her in sticky situations.
“I’m a very positive person, I try to be optimistic in everything and try to find the good in everything,” Cerda said. “I think going through [my injuries] definitely shaped the way I think now.”
Cerda said her knees still bother her, but she said she won’t let that get in the way of her last season of play.
“When it comes to your last season you just try to push through everything you can until it’s not bearable anymore,” Cerda said. “You know after this season if I was to get hurt I don’t have any more years left. So you just have to push through any type of pain you feel.”
Cerda said she had many goals for the season, with a main one being winning games. But she had one goal that rings true for any player on their last season.
“I want this year to be as enjoyable as possible,” Cerda said.
The Ramblers are scheduled to play Cerda’s alma mater, at Chicago State, Dec. 1.