Jacquelyn Desjardins Feature
Nov. 8, 2007
AMHERST, Mass. - So many high school athletes have done it. You play for a small school, so when you begin to look at higher education, that's all you look for - education. Continuing your athletic career in college never really enters the equation.
Not too many of those high school athletes end up playing in college anyway.
But that's how Jacquelyn Desjardins ended up with the Massachusetts Minutewomen. A local product, Desjardins is the definition of happy-go-lucky. She went to high school in South Hadley, Mass., where she was a four-year letter winner in soccer, and also lettered in softball and basketball.
She had spent her summers at UMass coach Jim Rudy's Advanced Girls Soccer camps developing her skill and learning the game, while Rudy kept a watchful eye on the five-foot-seven forward.
In her senior year, Desjardins had decided on Ithaca College, where she would play for the school's Division III soccer team. Tuition costs got in the way, and the always-smiling 19-year-old settled for UMass Amherst, which had a more affordable in-state cost.
After graduation, Desjardins attended one more of Rudy's camps.
"We found out through the grapevine that she was coming to school here. We hadn't really recruited her, but we hadn't heard anything from her indicating that she wanted to try out," Rudy says.
"I'd forgotten about it by mid-summer. I was looking at my summer camp list of who was coming into the camp, and there's Jackie Desjardins. I'm thinking, `Why's she coming to camp?"
Desjardins never thought twice about trying out for UMass's Division I program. She was just trying to improve her skills before joining the women's club soccer team at UMass.
She was even encouraged by Rudy's players to join them. Then-senior Nadia Villarroel saw Desjardins play in an indoor soccer league in Northampton (the rest of the squad was made up of boys). Villaroel was working as a referee for the league at the time, but one day, after officiating a game for Desjardins' team, Villaroel recommended that she try out for the team. Still, Desjardins put soccer in the back of her mind.
"I didn't intend to play D-I soccer," Desjardins says. "When I was originally looking at schools, I wasn't even looking for soccer, I was just going by what school I liked."
It wasn't until Rudy had a spot open up on his 2006 roster just a month before the start of the season that Desjardins gave collegiate soccer any serious thought. Though she never expressed interest in playing for UMass, Rudy never let the lines of communication close completely.
"We had a space on our squad, so I said, `Well look, there's no scholarship, I can't guarantee you any playing time, but if you'd like it, you can have it. Let me know," Rudy says.
"It was my fourth year coming to the soccer camp, so coach had seen me play," Desjardins says. "Then one week later, I was at preseason [training]."
Just like that, Desjardins had stumbled right onto a Division I soccer squad, and she was forced to hit the exquisite turf at Rudd Field running.
"I showed up for preseason the week after I had soccer camp," Desjardins says. "Everyone was just like, `Who is this girl that showed up?' I had one week to get ready for the fitness test, but I ended up doing just fine. So right away I was just thrown in."
There was no special introduction to the team for Jackie. Rudy simply kept moving toward the regular season, running practices as usual as his newest player was immersed in the UMass atmosphere.
"He didn't really call me a walk-on, anything. He didn't really tell anyone. It was just, `This is Jackie, she's on the team.'"
Rudy has always valued the relationships he has with his players. Desjardins may have been a last minute, walk-on addition to his usual roster, but for Rudy, that didn't change anything.
"If you have a squad, you have a squad," Rudy says. "They're all yours, you've got to love them all the same. It doesn't matter if they're playing a lot or playing a little, they're all the same."
It was never her intention, nor is she any different now that she's with the team, save for a little more experience on the field (she's appeared in three games in her first season-plus at UMass), but Desjardins is proof that sometimes things have a way of working out.
Jacquelyn Desjardins was happy playing soccer at her small, Western Massachusetts high school. She was happy playing for an indoor league in Northampton, and she would have been happy playing Division III soccer at Ithaca, or playing club soccer at UMass.
Instead, she's lucky enough to be a Division I collegiate athlete playing for Jim Rudy, who taught her everything she knows about soccer.
She's lucky to be playing at UMass, and she's just as happy as ever.