The Loyola women’s soccer team has had stellar defense during the 2021 season with graduate defender Jenna Ross at the helm. The fifth-year has dominated the pitch with her defensive tactics and game insight.
However, Ross wasn’t born with her leadership role.
She built it through an early passion for soccer, starting the sport at age four. She was inspired by her older sister, Ashley Ross, who was a midfielder at the University of Toledo from 2009 to 2013.
“Being the younger sister, I just wanted to follow in her footsteps,” Ross said.
Ross grew up as a multi-sport athlete, but stuck to soccer after starting at age four. This led to her attending multiple soccer identification camps — a common way for college coaches to scout out potential talent for the team — at Loyola.
Ross’s decision to attend Loyola wasn’t difficult — in fact, she said it was the easiest decision of her life.
“I knew that Loyola was an excellent option for me,” Ross said. “I knew it was a community I wanted to get myself into.”
The team she had been introduced to around four years prior ended up being a perfect fit, leading her to play a huge part in the team’s strategy. In the abridged spring 2021 season, she finished the year having contributed to six shutouts and tallying eight shots, four of them on goal.
Now, heading into her fifth year on the team — which was allowed by an extension in NCAA eligibility caused by COVID-19 — she’s played nearly every minute of Loyola’s four shutouts this season and also tallied two shots on goal.
She’s also surrounded by a group that deeply appreciates her efforts on the field, which includes fellow graduate player, forward Katherine Stephens.
Having her back there is really important,” Stephens said. “Her abilities like crossing the ball and her long throw into the box really gives us those opportunities to pressure the other team’s defense and creates more opportunities for us to score.”
Ross’s mental dedication to the team doesn’t go unnoticed either. Stephens said she values Ross’s role as a leader and the benefits she brings to the team outside of plays on the pitch, adding that Ross’ teachings have rubbed off on fellow teammates and acted as a positive instigator.
“She is for sure a teacher,’’ Stephens said. “She always wants the best for everyone and tries to motivate everyone on the team, she’s the last person that gives us our big pep talk before we head out onto the field and she’s always trying to bring the best out in us.”
Looking forward to the season ahead, Loyola head coach Barry Bimbi said he knows Ross is going to lead with her best foot forward and put in maximum effort.
He said consistency is important to him when evaluating players, and it’s something he’s seen in her throughout her time at Loyola.
“With Jenna, I know what I am going to get,” Bimbi said. “I’m going to get a kid that’s going to compete every minute of every game and she’s going to lead and give her all for the team.”
The Loyola women’s soccer team will play its next game against University of Northern Iowa Sept. 25 at Loyola Soccer Park. Kick-off is set for 4 p.m. and the game is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN3.