SURREY — A few months ago, Surrey native Jenna Baxter decided to return home. They didn’t know it at the time, but it was a good omen for the women’s soccer program at SFU.
Baxter is one of the most promising female soccer players in the province. Barely 19 years old (she celebrates her birthday this week), she already has an impressive resume that includes time with both Surrey United and the U18 Whitecaps Girls Elite squad.
And, three years ago, she helped Canada grab a silver medal at the 2013 CONCACAF Women’s U17 Championship.
Last year at just about this time, Baxter was graduating from Fraser Heights Secondary and prepping to head to Corvalis, Oregon. There, a scholarship and a chance to play in the prestigious PAC-12 conference for the Oregon State Beavers awaited.
She’d ultimately seize that opportunity, making 19 appearances and tallying 17 shots and two assists for the Beavers in the 2015 season before opting to pack her suitcase and head back to Surrey.
“I’m really thankful for the opportunity I had down there and the experience I gained,” she said last week, standing in the sunshine at Hjorth Road Park.
“I really enjoyed my time there, but honestly I just missed being home.”
And that brings us to SFU. In early 2014, as the almost-graduated Baxter weighed her options, new SFU Clan head coach Annie Hamel made her pitch. She knew all about the star midfielder through the Whitecaps program, and she was impressed.
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When Baxter eventually selected Oregon State, Hamel says she thought enough of her to tell her “there’ll always be a spot here for you.”
True to her word, Hamel gave her that spot not long after Baxter’s return. She’ll attend SFU this fall on a scholarship, majoring in business, and she’ll also play a prominent role on the soccer team, where she’ll be reunited with four of her Whitecaps teammates.
Hamel is psyched.
“Jenna’s extraordinary on the field. She’ll change the dynamics on the team,” she said. “She’s a bulldog…. She’s one of the smallest dogs, but she thinks and plays like she’s one of the biggest.”
Indeed, standing five feet three inches tall and likely weighing in the double digits, Baxter’s not exactly a colossus. But she’s trim, she’s toned, and she looks to have no body fat. And that’s what non-stop training will do.
Right now, her days are filled with it. Monday and Friday, she’s at the SFU campus working on passing and leg sprints. Tuesday and Thursday, she “lifts at a Cloverdale gym” and runs afterward. Wednesdays are run-only workouts.
She comes, not surprisingly, from a jock family. Mom played hockey and softball. Dad played hockey and flag football with Team Canada. And Jenna herself has been multi-sport practically since birth, dabbling in baseball, soccer and track.
Today, she looks as happy as she says she is. She smiles and laughs a lot, especially when she modestly shrugs off questions about her growing soccer stature. Or her fondness for wet-weather games (“They’re the best”). Or Justin Bieber. Or her Oregon experience.
“Overall it was really cool,” she said of the latter. “We went on a 10-day road trip once. Playing in the PAC-12 was great.”
She remembers well a storm-delayed, 100-minute marathon in Austin, Texas, where she assisted on the Beavers’ only goal and punched through the only shot in OT. Grueling? On the contrary, it was a “fun night.”
But, she said more seriously, “Being in Oregon made me realize how much I like going to school. It made me appreciate it.”
It’s an attitude she’ll need to bring to SFU, where she’ll not only play soccer against tough U.S.-based NCAA competition, but strive to keep her grades up, too.
“I’m thankful Annie’s given me the opportunity to play at home,” she says, adding that Hamel’s a “great coach.”
It’s clearly a mutual admiration society, and one that should serve both well going forward.