Former PH Soccer Standout Tricia Jessee Begins, Ends Career on Top

Starting with the basics at age 4 and ending with an ODAC championship goal at 22, Tricia Jessee’s organized soccer career has been as long as it has been successful.

“Soccer has been an incredible outlet for any stress in my life,” she said. “It has brought me constant joy and helped me to make lifelong friends.”

Transitioning to the prestigious Roanoke Star soccer program around age 10, Jessee said she quickly fell in love with the sport after initially trying it to be with her friends. Sometimes playing on multiple soccer teams at the same time, Jessee continued to pair natural talent with hard work, and began playing for Patrick Henry High School as an eighth-grader.

“It’s an honor to talk about her,” said former PH teammate Emily Whitaker, who is a year younger than Jessee. “I looked up to her – since she made varsity as a ninth-grader, I also wanted to make varsity.”

Jessee, who received several All-Timesland designations during her time at PH, went on to become captain of the team as a senior. In addition to on-the-field dominance, Jessee helped the team succeed with strong leadership and focus.

Always doing a bit extra for the sake of the team, Whitaker said, Jessee gave the group the necessary mentality to win. “We pushed each other in practice,” Whitaker said about Jessee, who convinced Whitaker to stay optimistic and engaged even when she tore her ACL junior year.

As luck would have it, Jessee, who had never suffered anything worse than a sprained ankle before college, sprained her MCL on the third day of first-year preseason. Missing the first two opening weekends of the season, Jessee came back to play in the Generals’ first ODAC game, but pulled her quad four games later.

For someone who summarized her high school identity as “an athlete” and rated her sense of competitiveness as a “12 out of 10,” Jessee was frustrated with the roadblock but said she never considered quitting the team. Bouncing back from the injury more determined than ever, Jessee was soon recognized as the 10/21 ODAC player of the week, recorded two game-winning postseason goals, and finished third on the team in total points.

“Strikers usually have strength or speed; Tricia has both” said Head of Student Broadcasting Jeremy Franklin. “She has strength on the ball, deceptive speed, and a knack for finishing.” Head Coach Neil Cunningham, who has led the Generals for more than a decade, added, “She is one of the best we’ve had.”

Saying that Jessee’s work ethic on the field set a high precedent for the rest of the team, first-year goalkeeper Leeann Passarro also mentioned that Jessee took a leading role in establishing team chemistry.

“She, more than any other player, took me under her wing,” said Passarro. “She is the leader of the offense…and a big sister. Off the field, she is the first to host a pizza night or movie night,” Passarro said. “She’s the team social coordinator.”

Having established herself as an integral part of the team and the “light of the locker room,” Jessee’s next goal was the one that had eluded the Generals the previous three seasons: an ODAC championship title.

Last won by the Generals in 2009, the title slipped from W&L’s grasp in the ODAC championship and quarterfinals of the ’14 and ‘15 seasons, respectively. Jessee, now a senior, knew she had only one more shot to help bring home a trophy.

“I don’t think I’ve wanted anything more,” Jessee said, “especially as far as soccer goes. That’s been our goal day one freshman preseason.”

Following a strong, focused preseason, the team looked to be in excellent condition to vie for a top spot in the ODAC. A few games into the season, however, W&L was dealt a shocking loss by Shenandoah, also in the ODAC. Knowing that multiple ODAC regular season losses could derail the season, senior captain Katie Clemmons said that she, Jessee, and the rest of the seniors came together to help refocus the team before the next game.

“All the seniors played a big part,” Clemmons said, who also stressed the team’s mentality to take one game at a time.

That, paired with the team’s increasing comfort with a new formation, helped the Generals finish 15-4-1 on the regular season. For the first time since 2006 – a team that Franklin called “the best” he had seen the school produce in his 15-year career – the 27-member squad entered the ODAC tournament ranked first overall.

Lynchburg, Franklin said, was the team to beat, having won the 2014 NCAA Division III title and going undefeated in the ODAC from 2010 – 2015. A lucky draw, however, put W&L on the other side of the bracket.

Quickly cruising by Randolph and Shenandoah by a combined score of 10-2, the Generals soon found themselves in the championship game against Virginia Wesleyan.

Jessee, despite coming into the game W&L’s 4th-ranked goal-scorer of all time, started the game on the bench. After 20 minutes, the score remained 0-0.

A few seconds later, Cunningham brought Jessee into the game.

Sixteen seconds after that, Jessee was brought to tears.

Dribbling down the middle of the field unassisted, Jessee took a hard strike at the ball, which hit the goalkeeper’s hand, the bottom of the crossbar and eventually (and most importantly) the back of the net.

“It still feels like a dream to me,” Jessee said. “It is honestly a haze to me because so many emotions were brought on in that moment.” Instantly jumping into teammate Chandler Wickers’ arms, Jessee unhesitatingly described the goal as the most memorable of the 42 she had scored over four years at W&L.

Followed eight minutes later by teammate Megan Engeland’s goal, the Generals held VW to only one goal, scored in the 68th minute. After 90 minutes – and for Jessee and the rest of the seniors, four years – mission accomplished. Washington and Lee University, 2016 ODAC women’s soccer champions.

“Looking back at my life, winning ODACs is definitely the best thing that has happened to me thus far,” Jessee said. “The feeling of holding that trophy after the game will stick with me for life.”

– Ford Carson