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Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2019
Converted flower picker reflects on her journey
by Randy Pascal

“It’s just fun to have other people join you on a journey,” noted Cambrian Golden Shield centerback Jenelle St Jean, less than a week prior to what is likely to be the final game of her OCAA career. “You can get together and tell stories, share your experience with other people. It’s just better.”

This aspect of team sports, in general, and soccer, more specifically, for the long-time Sudbury resident, has always been near the top of the list of reasons why she eventually fell in love with an athletic pursuit that has now been part of her life for what seems like forever – even if it definitely did not start off that way.

“When I was four, my dad put me in soccer and I was that kid that was always picking flowers,” recalled the eldest of two girls in the family. “I hated it. I didn’t want to go, I just wanted to stay in the car.” Despite her resistance, St Jean continued to suit up, each and every summer, a regular member of the Sudburnia Soccer Club.

“Sometime between the time I was eight and twelve, I realized that I was good at soccer and started to enjoy it more.” Surely it did not hurt that as she was ready to make the move over to the competitive ranks at the onset of her teenage years, St Jean was part of a wave of very talented female soccer enthusiasts in the Sudbury basin.

The group that converged initially with the Sudbury Canadians included not only the likes of Rachel Leck, Sarah Mulvenna and Courtney Sauvé, but also a core that would follow the path that St Jean would find, splicing over as members of the GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club) Impact and eventually finding a landing spot with the Golden Shield family.

“That whole age group, even throughout high school, was a group that was really strong at sports,” noted St Jean. “All of the schools were very competitive.” If her soccer career would ultimately strike her as being analogous to a journey, then her positional development, over time, could more aptly be compared to a very busy subway line, with a new and different stop every few miles along the tracks.

“My first year, I was a defender,” recalled St Jean. “Then I started to play as a striker, which was weird. Then I was a midfielder, and then more defensive with (coach) Dayna (Corelli). My first year at Cambrian, I was a center-mid. From year two, and on, I’ve been at centerback, but I can literally play anywhere. You put me somewhere and I can learn. It’s not that hard.”

Beyond simply the size advantage that she enjoys, creating an imposing presence in the middle of the back-line, in general, and more critically on crossed balls that require heading out of danger’s way, there are other key attributes that make St Jean a logical choice in the position where she would start the overwhelming majority of the games in her OCAA career.

“I like to use my voice, a lot,” said St Jean. “You hear me on the field the whole time. I am always talking to people, or even yelling, a little bit.” That kind of take charge attitude is useful both for a key defender, and also with many keepers. But with her co-hort in crime in net, Megan Coutu, being a little more quiet than most other goaltenders, St Jean can slide nicely into a comfort zone for both. “Megan has my back,” she said with a smile.

“But I also like to keep things calm. That’s one of my big things.”

Of course, it wasn’t as though Jenelle St Jean showed up, on day one, fully prepared to take control. “I didn’t say anything when I was in my first year,” she acknowledged. “I was way too shy to say something. With players like Tiffany (Johnson), I would just watch her, realizing how good she was.”

“Now, as a vet, I can talk to the rookies and help them out. I try and give them feedback so that they can improve, so that they can listen and learn.” As with any great journey, St Jean has walked a mile and more in their shoes – and enjoyed so many of the steps along the way. “My favourite year was probably my first year playing at Cambrian,” she said. “That was really fun.”

“It was just a whole new experience, way more intense than my Impact experience. Just that atmosphere of playing with older girls, being able to go to provincials and win medals. With the Impact, we didn’t have that sort of thing.”

Through the past few years, there has been an element of stability. Working closely with coaches Giuseppe Politi, Dayna Corelli and now Evan Phillips, St Jean, along local teammates Dana Isaia, Kaitlin Houben, Morgan Melnek, Kianna Houben and Coutu,have attempted to master a style of play that is rooted in its consistency.

“It’s the same message,” said St Jean. “When Dayna is talking, you still hear Giuseppe’s voice in the background. You can tell that Dayna and Evan base their coaching style off of his. They all have the same goals.”

Unfortunately, with losses to both the Seneca Sting and the St Clair Saints at the OCAA championships, the goals of the Cambrian women’s soccer team and staff will have to be shelved for another year. As for Jenelle St Jean, who is planning on completing her degree in Communications at Laurentian University next year, she is undecided about when, or if ever, she will put to use her final year of post-secondary eligibility.

Which is not to say that soccer will fall completely by the wayside.

“I still want to play during the summer, and I want to coach too,” she said. “I’ve always loved being around kids and teaching them. If I can help kids get to where I was, it would be really cool.”

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