Jenna Smarzinski – after dedicating half her life to softball – will soon hang up the cleats, graduate college and begin a new chapter of in her life beyond the diamond.
Jenna is one of three seniors on the team, but the only one who spent her entire collegiate career at UW-Green Bay. Although Jenna had offers to play basketball elsewhere, she chose to sign with UWGB and continue a softball career because it just felt like the right place to be.
“It felt right,” she said. “My dad went here. He played basketball for a while before he blew out his knees. I grew up coming and watching the women’s basketball team play, and it was one of those things where it was always in the back of my mind to come here. It’s close enough to home where my family can come and watch but it’s far enough away, so I don’t feel like I’m in my own backyard.”
A Long, Strange Trip it’s Been
How Jenna ended up playing for the Phoenix is a unique story. Coach Beth Spoehr, who was the head coach during Jenna’s freshman year at UW-Green Bay, went to high school at Appleton East. Appleton East is in the same conference as Kimberly – where Jenna attended high school. One of Spoehr’s close friends was a Kimberly alumni who went off to be a college pitcher. She remained close with the Kimberly softball program after graduation and would return to practices to pitch to the girls. Eventually, she told Spoehr to come watch Jenna play. Jenna was then offered a scholarship going into her senior year. She verbally committed in the Fall and signed a letter of intent.
From high school to a Division 1 program, Jenna said the toughest part of the transition was a change in routine and not having her parents around to help her out, but having to learn to do it all on her own. Her transition was not as difficult as she thought it would be.
“The sport itself wasn’t a huge transition because it’s the same game from high school to college, but I think a transition for me was just realizing how much bigger, faster, and stronger girls are at this level,” she said. “You really can’t take any play off just because at the Division 1 level, you’re playing the best of the best. I think for the most part our support staff in our athletic department and within our program do a really good job bringing freshman in and making them feel comfortable. It definitely wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.”
All Part of the Game
The team has had its fair share of changes over the course of her career. From coaching changes, to brand contracts, to field maintenance – a lot of factors have come into play. Aside from the changes within the program, Jenna has had her own personal roadblocks. During her sophomore season, she broke her finger going into opening weekend, causing her to miss the non-conference games.
The following year, she discovered that she had torn her hip labrum in the late Fall of her junior year. She had the surgery in December and although the recovery time was only supposed to be a couple of months, Jenna was unable to begin playing again until the last couple of series in late April and early May. This caused her to miss almost all of her junior year.
Through the changes and challenges, Jenna experienced a lot of personal growth as a player and as a person.
“I went through a lot of personal growth just like with different health issues and what not, but I think one thing that Coach Wachholz has made me do is grow up as a person. I think as my time with him progressed, he pushed me more and more to take on more of a leadership role on the team and especially now my senior year. He is always pushing us not just to be better softball players, but to be better people. I think that’s a really big driving factor behind that.”
Over the course of four years, Jenna has accumulated countless memories on and off the field. From the conference tournament her freshman year to the team trip to Florida, it was hard to just pick one memory to be her favorite. Something she seemed to thoroughly enjoy during her time at UWGB was the strength and conditioning program. She credits Coach Brandon Schlotthauer, Director of Strength and Conditioning, for helping shape her into the person she is today.
Not to be too Cheesy
“He has really helped shape me into the person I am today, not to be cheesy. I think I just went through a lot of personal growth throughout these four years, I’m definitely a different person now than I was my freshman year in a lot of different aspects, and I have Coach Brandon to thank for a lot of that.”
Jenna’s advice to incoming college athletes is to just take each day in and enjoy the little things: Make the most of the small things before it’s over. It goes by quickly.
“If you love it enough, then go for it,” she added. “Just put in all the time you have because in a couple weeks, I’m never going to play again. So, just kind of enjoying what you have before it’s taken from you. In regards to aspiring college athletes, I think just find the place that feels like home that just feels right.”
Jenna graduates May 18 with a degree in Human Biology. She’ll work at Aurora Baycare Medical Center as a CNA in their Neuro Unit, and with autistic kids through Fox Valley Autistic Treatment Program. Her long-term goal is to go to medical school and become a pediatrician. Congratulations and Good Luck!
Written by The GoGetters:
Jenelle Mackie, and
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