Sept. 13, 2012
By Matthew Pearce, UGA Sports Communications
ATHENS, Ga. --- As late as last December, the Georgia soccer coaches weren’t sure if they would have inspirational defender Jenna Buckley back for the 2012 season. Buckley wasn’t sure herself if she would be back for a fifth and final year at Georgia.
“It was a hard decision for me,” Buckley said. “For a long time I thought I was going to finish academically in four years and, because I wasn’t playing much in games, I figured I’d graduate and move onto something I could maybe be more successful in.”
Buckley did graduate in May 2012 with a degree in Business Administration in Banking and Finance from UGA’s Terry College. But even still, the redshirt senior from Atlanta decided to return to the Bulldogs for her final year of eligibility and start graduate school.
“I earned a starting spot and that sort of changes your whole perspective on the game,” Buckley said. “Not that I ever fell out of love with it, it’s just that everyone wants to be playing. At the end of last year, after talking to my coaches and my teammates and a lot of input from people and family, I decided that coming back for my fifth year was the best thing for me.”
She wasn’t the only one.
“When she decided to stay it was fantastic, it was a big moment,” said associate head coach Dan Blank, who serves as the coach of the defensive unit. “We kind of had to re-recruit her to stay. I thought we had a good chance after we beat Kentucky last year. I saw her walking off the field, she was by herself and she just had this smile on her face. It was at the time she was thinking about whether she was going to come back and I could tell she really enjoyed that day.”
“That was one of those days that makes you want to stick around for another year.”
Buckley has struggled throughout her career with injuries, beginning with an ACL injury suffered during her senior year in high school. She said that finally being able to be consistently healthy, along with playing regularly, has helped her a lot this season.
“It makes a huge difference, not just physically with being able to participate and practice day in and day out, and constantly being in the line up,” Buckley said. “But mentally it’s a complete game-changer knowing you’re healthy and you’re consistent and you can practice Tuesday through Thursday and you can play on Friday. It’s a huge difference.”
As a rare fifth-year senior, Buckley is a team captain as well as the oldest member of the team. Blank said that Buckley’s experience both, on and off the field, has helped create one of Georgia’s most respected leaders.
“She’s immensely respected because she’s probably the most intelligent person on the team,” Blank said. “She doesn’t talk a lot, but what she says has value and everybody respects that. The other thing is the game was taken away from her for a while, so she doesn’t waste a second of what she’s got left to play. It means a lot to her to put on that Georgia uniform and step out on the field on a Friday night.”
Having redshirted her freshman year, Buckley has gained a lot of experience in her time at Georgia. She has served as the soccer teams’ representative on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and was chosen to participate in the UGA L.E.A.D program. She also founded a non-profit organization to provide athletic equipment to children in Africa and has interned at Ernst & Young in their offices in both Atlanta and New York.
Through all of her on and off the field success, Buckley said there is one in which she has seen the most dramatic progression.
“My confidence,” she said. “I feel like when you don’t have confidence, any skill you do have is hindered, and that when you play with confidence your skill is sort of highlighted. Definitely having confidence and learning the system a lot better has made a huge difference.”
Blank added that Buckley’s achievements are made even more impressive by the obstacles she has overcome.
“For her, if you look at the roller coaster that her career has been since she [injured] her knee in high school, I think that she’s going to be very thankful and grateful for the opportunity she has,” Blank said. “Think about where she was and now she’s the captain of the University of Georgia.”
“That’s a pretty nice career path.”