A Different Route: The JUCO Experience | 2aDays

A Different Route: The JUCO Experience

Jenna was a talented softball player her entire career and she had hopes of playing at the Division I level. When the Division I offers were not coming in, she felt she had failed, when in reality taking another route – Junior College – was exactly what she needed to do.  

The hard reality is only 6% of high school athletes will end up playing their desired sport in the NCAA. Athletes often forget there are other collegiate athletic leagues outside of the NCAA, including the NAIA, NJCAA, or the NESCAC. The NJCAA, more commonly known as JuCo, is particularly beneficial for athletes who want to hone in their skills and improve their academic standings before attending a 4-year university

Related: Everything You Need to Know about College Leagues and Divisions

Starting the Recruiting Process
Jenna was one of the hopeful athletes in high school: a four-year varsity starter for her high school softball team, a vital part of her elite travel team, and a good student. Jenna had her sights set on a NCAA Division I scholarship. Jenna and her teammates started the recruiting process around the ages of 14 and 15. She realized she was not receiving the same offers her teammates were. She was hurt, but she stayed motivated considering she still had three years left in her recruiting process. 

Jenna’s senior year was approaching and she still had no DI offers. So, the young athlete decided to pursue the junior collegiate programs that showed interest in her.  Jenna ended up signing to play at a Florida junior college with an amazing softball program and a popular head coach. Jenna was excited to play at her future college, but the one difference she noticed when talking about her school was the lackluster response from others. She knew where she decided to go to school had nothing to do with what others thought, but after seeing the recognition her friends and teammates received, she wanted the same, and after working towards this for 14 years, she felt she deserved it. 

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Ignoring the Stereotypes
Throughout her recruiting process, Jenna had to learn to ignore the stereotypes about junior colleges, otherwise she would end up questioning her decision. Her softball team of 14 to 16 girls consisted of 12 who were going to play at the DI level and only 2 going to junior college. The fact that the majority of her team was going to a Division I school and she was not rattled her mental game so much she began to doubt her talents and abilities. 

Jenna kept her commitment to the Florida junior college and traveled to the school in the fall of 2016, excited to play with a long-time teammate. As she began her freshman season, her mindset of JuCo programs completely changed. Jenna says “I would never, in a million years, trade my two years at a JuCo for anything,” and explained the advantages of going to a junior college. 

Related school ratings: Florida junior colleges

Becoming the Player She Didn’t Know She Was Capable Of
Throughout her time at a JUCO, Jenna became a player she had no idea she was capable of becoming. Considering the NJCAA has little to no restrictions (compared to NCAA) when it comes to practice times and hours spent with coaches, Jenna was able to take advantage of the extra time. “It’s just more time to get better! It was amazing to see what I could overcome physically, mentally, and emotionally.” To Jenna, the advantages included the “rock bottom” you may hit during your athletic career. Participating at a JuCo and in those practices, she learned what she needed to do to bounce back even quicker. 

Jeffrey Sims, as seen on Last Chance U, says “The key mistake students make is they go to junior college, and they continue the same mistakes that led them to junior college, and they find other students to co-sign with them and tell them they don’t have a problem; it’s everyone else.” If you can identify what you need to work on, then spend your time in junior college perfecting your skills, the JuCo route can open you up to countless new possibilities.

Related: Missouri Southern St University and Former Last Chance U Head Football Coach, Jeffrey Sims, Addresses COVID-19 Adjustments and Recruiting Process

Advantages of JuCo
Another advantage to her was the heightened interest from college coaches at the next level, “DI coaches love JUCO transfers, we’ve already been through college so, we already know the basics and we have that talent they’re looking for.”

During her last year at a junior college, Jenna realized how she was much closer with her head coach compared to players who were a part of a higher-level program. Her relationship with her head coach helped her receive more offers to play at the next level. In addition to numerous offers she did not receive in her high school career; her coach was able to help Jenna when it came to deciding since he had such a great understanding of Jenna and what she needed as a student-athlete and as a person. 

Related: Pro Soccer Player Talks Chances of a JuCo Athlete Going DI

An Experience She Would Do over and over Again
Jenna is now playing softball at a Division I university and is beyond grateful for the route she decided to take. Her coach, teammates, and friends she made at her JuCo, plus the improvements she made within herself made the JuCo experience well worth it. She explained that it was hard, but an experience she would do over and over again: “I met lifelong friends and made so many amazing memories, my experience at a JuCo was more than I could hope for.”

Jenna now understands the different routes athletes have to take and why no athlete’s story can be the same nor is anybody’s better than the others. “JuCos get a special breed of people. Every single person is there for the same reason, all driven to get to that next level.” 

* Originally published on September 15, 2021, by Caelyn Elwin

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