Jacobs looks to continue coming up big in the clutch

It was evident in last year's state title run and figures to remain the case when nearly all of the squad's key members return this season — the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy soccer team has a plethora of offensive stars who, when working together, can make scoring look effortless.

In a 2009-10 campaign that saw the team go unbeaten in the Mission League, reach the CIF Southern Section Division II semifinals and win the first CIF Southern California Regional crown (Division III) in program history, the Tologs scored 72 goals, had a pair of starting forwards finish with 23 and 19 goals, respectively, and had six different players register double-digit points.

But they only have one Jill Jacobs.

"She's just one of those all-around good players who is well-respected on and off the field by all of her teammates and even the coaches," Tologs senior co-captain Alyssa Conti says. "She went a little under the radar. She wasn't really noticed, but in those huge games, she was the one who pulled through for us. When we needed it, out of nowhere, [she] just came up with a big goal."

On a roster that often shone blindingly with star power, Jacobs, an outside midfielder, still found a way to stand out again and again in the most pressurized situations during her sophomore year, earning the reputation as a clutch scorer and facilitator who could deliver consistently when things looked their most dire.

With the Tologs set for another run through the perilous Mission League and moving up to Division I this season, Jacobs, who registered 12 goals and four assists last season, figures to get plenty more chances to play the hero as a junior.

"I definitely think our main goal is to get the triple crown — hopefully to win Mission League, win CIF and then state," Jacobs says. "It's going to be a really tough, tough challenge, but I think we're up for it and we have a great group of girls. We're hoping to show everyone that we're still growing as a team and that we're going to continue to go out there and play as hard as we can every game."

In last year's signature wins over defending-champion Saugus in the CIF quarterfinals and Francis Parker in the regional title game, Jacobs provided the spark that lit the comeback fire.

With the team down, 2-0, to Saugus at halftime, it was Jacobs going far post from 20 yards out in the 45th minute to key a rally of three unanswered goals down the stretch that produced a 3-2 win.

"Definitely, the Saugus game was our best game, or my favorite game," Jacobs says. "It was a really tough game and [Sacred Heart co-Coach] Frank [Pace] told me the side that I was on, the left side, would be a pretty tough challenge for me, but I was able to overcome it.

"We were already down at halftime and we had a really inspiring speech by [defender] Natalie [Zeenni] and I was just determined to come back and win. When I finally got the [first] goal and we started to just keep scoring, I thought it was a really good experience. Overall, just so many emotions were happening, but in the end, it turned out great and we just kept moving forward."

Jacobs would suffer a broken nose in that game, but in the next round, facing a 2-1 deficit to Beckman, she made good on a game-tying goal in the 79th minute of regulation, forcing a 2-2 tie that would endure until the Tologs fell in penalty kicks, 4-3.

"She doesn't shy away from the spotlight, she shines in the spotlight," Pace says of Jacobs, his primary choice for penalty kicks throughout the last season. "And that tells you about her character."

And, finally, after Francis Parker scored early to take a 1-0 lead in the regional title game, it was Jacobs, who moved up from her usual spot on the left side to replace forward Katie Johnson, the team's scoring leader with 23 goals, coming up with a tying goal in the 13th minute to key a 2-1 victory.

"I feel like I was a good player to go to in those situations," Jacobs says. "I was really excited about all of the games and I really wanted to stay in it and so every time I was near the goal, I made sure that I focused and made the shot that I had to make.

"I was excited about the playoffs. I wanted to make sure I did really well, so everyone could see how good our team was as we kept moving forward and the talent that I had, too."

A true forward, who has learned to excel on the outside for the Tologs, Jacobs has shown the ability, and willingness, to adapt for the good of the team. Capable of starting at forward on most any team, Jacobs has never chafed at taking on a new position because of the presence of all-league forwards Johnson and Breeana Koemans (19 goals).

"I'm actually primarily right-footed, but I've learned to use my left pretty well, so I would like to say that I'm both-footed now," says Jacobs, who may also be tabbed to play on the right side a bit, as well as some occasional forward this year. "It's definitely a fitness adjustment. I have to get in better shape for high school just because of running up and down the line. But in the game, I really have to practice my left a lot and be committed to getting that better and stronger. If I'm up top, I have to really be committed to scoring every shot that I get and when I'm on the outside making sure I'm able to cross it and give my teammates as many chances to score as I can, as well."

Her hard work and dedication to putting the team first have resulted in Jacobs being able to shine in her own right, no matter who she is sharing the field, or the spotlight, with.

"We have a lot of stars in our constellation at Sacred Heart — we're very lucky — and sometimes she gets lost in the shadows," Pace says. "But if you take a look at last year's playoffs….She had five goals and two assists in seven playoff games and that's when the competition is the toughest and that's when you really know what players are made out of by what they bring in the most critical of times."

A quick study in the classroom, as well, Jacobs has a 4.3 grade-point average and a collection of some top soccer and academic schools —Georgetown, Pepperdine, Nevada, Williams College and Claremont College — on her short list of college destinations.

"Ever since middle school I've been a student athlete, so that's really been important to me," Jacobs says. "My family has definitely stressed the academic side of things because you never know, if you lose soccer you're going to have to have something to fall back on. I've always wanted to go to an academic and athletic school so I can have the best of both worlds."

And success on the field and in the classroom isn't all that makes Jacobs stand out to her peers and teammates.

"Obviously, she's a talented player skillwise, but the thing about Jill that stands out to me the most is she's a teammate on and off the field," Conti says. "I was very sick last year and she was the only one who visited me in the hospital. She was there for me through every step. …She will give everything she has all the time."

More big things are expected of Jacobs this season, not just by coaches and teammates, but by herself.

"You can just tell she's bringing a lot of confidence back to the playing field with her," Pace says. "I don't think there's any question that success breeds success."

Says Jacobs: "I'm definitely coming in with some confidence and I'm sure our team is, too, but we always want to be humble, too, and take it one game at a time. My team really supported me and helped me get the opportunities I got in the games, but it definitely helped [my confidence] to do so well in the playoffs last year."

The Tologs won't be lacking in talent and depth this year. With Jacobs on board, they won't have to look far for a clutch performer once league championships and postseasons are on the line either.

"I've been telling her every single practice, this is her year, I can feel it," Conti says. "Not like she wasn't amazing last year, but I feel like this year she is just going to powerhouse the team. She is going to be one of the key players that we will need in the [big] games."

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