By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A pristine new soccer field for Marshall University is under construction in downtown Huntington, and Jessica Inman can’t wait to help break it in.
The all-state defender for Princeton Senior High School, who will be a PSHS alumna this time next month, is a member of the Thundering Herd recruiting class of 2017 announced by MU head coach Kevin Long.
“It’s going to be tough, leaving my friends and the rest of my team here, but I think it’s going to be good,” she said on Friday, on familiar turf at the Princeton soccer stadium. “It’s a good start in a new chapter, and I’m excited.”
She said her current status in the Marshall program is as an invited walk-on, “because we started the process really late,” she said. But an athletic scholarship is still a possibility.
“I’m hoping, if he can see me play, we might get one,” she said. “We’ll just have to see.”
Last fall, Inman was first-team all state, all-Mountain State Athletic Conference, and was named defender of the year by the state coaches’ association. She helped the Tigers soccer team to the MSAC championship and the Region 3 championship match.
She also has played on a travel team that Long coached. She said, “He also helped coach ODP (the state Olympic Development Program), so I kind of knew how he was and how he coached.”
She liked his emphasis on technique on the field. “He’s very technical. That’s a good thing,” she said.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Marshall,” she said. That led to enrolling in a camp on the campus last fall. “I was hoping the coach would talk to me,” she said. “I showed them what I could do — and I got lucky and he talked to me.”
That wasn’t her only connection to the school.
She said, “My sister went there, so it’s very familiar, and my mom went there, too, (through) online classes. And it’s a pretty campus, and it’s interesting.”
Her mother, Teresa Inman, said, “Her father (Gregg) and I have always tried to convince her that she has the ability, as long as she can put in the effort and the work and the dedication, to achieve playing at that level.”
“We’re very excited that the opportunity has been given to her, and we’re very proud of her.”
Since Marshall is an in-state school, Teresa Inman said, “She’s able to apply the Promise Scholarship which she received.”
“It’s far enough that she’ll be able to develop some independence, but yet close enough that I’m still able to go see her pretty often and still be involved in her life.”
“I love the campus. I love the faculty there, just from past experience with my eldest daughter — who graduated from Marshall with a biology degree.”
“It’s a very good school. It has a lot of activities for the students. ... It’s a good chance for her to develop into a very successful adult.”
One of the Jessica’s close friends, McKenzie Akers, has also signed with Marshall to play basketball starting next fall. Jessica, who played hoops with her on the Tigerettes team that went to the state tournament this spring, said, “I’m hoping that we’ll stay in touch while we’re up there.”
She’s also hoping to play soccer as a freshman for the Herd. “I’m hoping to,” she said. “I’m going to work as hard as I can, but I’m not guaranteed anything ... so I’m just going to show them what I have, and try my best.”
Asked about her summer plans, she said with a laugh, “Training, 20 times a day. Definitely.” She may also work with a personal trainer at Concord University, she said.
The Marshall coaching staff has indicated she will get a tryout as a defender.
“I’m fine with it,” she said. “I feel comfortable in defense. I’ve played midfield, but for the high school, they moved me back to defense the past couple of years — and I’m more comfortable there than I am in midfield, I think.”
She learned the sport by “playing all year round, and getting to have my foot on the ball, and learning from every game. The coaching has helped, too.”
She said her personal highlights of Princeton’s season last fall was “going to regionals (and) being MSAC champs. I really liked playing with my teammates. That was just amazing!”
Her high school head coach, Michelle Dye, said on Friday, “ Jessica was a major asset to our team for the last four years.
“She started all four years and served as captain her junior and senior year. Jessica was one of our key players on defense this year.”
“She played midfield the previous three years and stepped up and played sweeper. In my opinion we didn’t face another sweeper our entire season that was a talented as Jessica.”
“We will definitely miss her next year. Jessica is a player that has both skill and heart and will definitely help out the Marshall team with her love for soccer, skill and determination. She is a coachable player and gave 110 percent during games and practices.”
Jessica also has been honored as the senior girl scholar-athlete at Princeton Senior High.
She said about the challenge of playing sports and studying, “I tried my best to study as much as I could. (For) away games, you have to do work on the bus if you have homework. It just takes a lot of dedication.”
Math and science are her favorite subjects, she said, and at Marshall she plans on majoring in chemistry with an eye on becoming a pharmacist.
“I’m interested in the medical field, but I don’t really want to be a surgeon,” she said, “but (I will) still be working with medicine, being a pharmacist.”
Teresa Inman believes soccer has helped her daughter’s maturity.
“Being on a team, you will develop dedication, you develop responsibility,” she said. “You know as a team member people are relying on you, and you know you need to accomplish certain tasks and you need to be there for your team.”
“And that will quickly tie into being an adult. You always have a group of people who are relying on you, whether it’s your family, whether it’s employment situations.”
“I feel like she’s developed a lot of leadership skills (and) a lot of skills that will help her become a successful adult.”
“Soccer has really been a cornerstone in her development, in becoming mature. ... It’s been very, very important, very vital to her.”
— Contact Tom Bone at firstname.lastname@example.org