Barring injury, Jessica Peterson will leave Maryville College after next season as the finest goal scorer the school has ever known. Recently, the junior speed machine secured an honor she rates at a higher level.
The Loveland, Ohio, native was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of American/adidas Women’s College Scholar All-America Team, becoming the sixth athlete at the school to be so honored since 1999. Peterson, a child development major, is the first athlete at Maryville to secure the award for women’s soccer.
“It’s just a heckuva an honor,” Maryville coach Pepe Fernandez said. “She’s very deserving. She’s very humble. She doesn’t like a lot of attention, and she’s a great student.”
Peterson’s selection is part of an academic celebration for Maryville soccer this season all ’round. The men’s and women’s teams at Maryville were both extended NSCAAA Team Academic Awards, the selections encompassing 141 men’s teams and 326 women’s over the NCAA’s three divisions. To be selected, teams must achieve a collective 3.0 grade point average or higher.
The selection for the women’s team is its 11th consecutive and 15th overall during Fernandez’ tenure as coach.
It’s no accident players like Peterson are able to find success in the classroom as well as on the playing field, Fernandez said. Most student-athletes at Maryville don’t arrive with aspirations of professional careers once their days as Scots are done. The degrees they earn will one day count for much more.
The school then does its part, Fernandez said, with professors working with the teams’ travel plans and practice schedules.
“I think it’s a matter of at Maryville College you’re going to recruit good academic students,” he said. “Kids come here for a reason. I think the college is set up for that type of student.”
The way Fernandez works around their class schedules makes as big a difference as anything Peterson said.
“We make our schedules for classes,” she said, “and then he schedules practice around our (class) schedules.”
While Peterson is a star in the classroom, don’t let it give you the impression her soccer skills are in any way lacking.
Former Lady Scot Jennifer Windrow blasted home a school-record 70 goals during an All-South career in the late 1990s. With a year to go, Peterson, an All-South selection this fall, is six back of Windrow’s mark. Her 32 career assists are 10 back of former Lady Scot Sarah Harmon’s school record in that category as well.
“Nobody thought Windrow’s record would ever be broken,” Fernandez said. “We’ve had some good records here, and she (Peterson) has set them on fire.”
A high-scoring forward with superb speed and skill, Peterson could easily have taken her talents on the playing field to the Division I or II level. A more academic setting like Maryville was simply a better fit, she said.
“I didn’t really want to go DI or DII because I wanted to focus on academics and life outside of soccer,” Peterson said. “Throughout the years, I’ve learned to balance the two.”
Success in the classroom has a way of making its way to the playing field, Fernandez said. Players like former All-Americans Jody Tootle, a Nashville accountant, and Julie Dingles, an executive with Coca-Cola, have gone onto successful careers in the business world.
“It’s very rare that we’ve had a marginal student that wound up being one of our best players,” Fernandez said.
The men’s and women’s team awards, with the Scots compiling a slightly higher grade point average this year, lends itself to some good-natured teasing on occasion. It’s a competitive aspect of academic life at Maryville Fernandez said he encourages.
“We try to promote it,” he said. “We try to make it competitive between the boys and the girls. If the boys have a better GPA than the girls, the girls are going to hear about it.”
Turnabout is only fair play, Maryville senior Ben Lawson said.
“There’s definitely some competitiveness,” he said. “They like the rub it in. There’s definitely some competitiveness, and it carries over onto the playing field.”
If there’s a secret to the academic success Maryville soccer teams have enjoyed through the years, Lawson said, it’s contained in a popular NCAA television commercial that ends with the words: “They’ll all be going pro in something other than sport.”
“It’s important because I know I’m not going to make a career playing soccer,” Lawson said.