BOSTON — Jess Morrow may have dreamt of becoming an All-American, but certainly not for her defensive dominance.
Early in her freshman year at Boston University, Morrow got the call any gifted young goal-scorer dreads.
Kid, it’s time to work on your defensive skills.
Morrow, who scored 50 career goals at Andover High, was unexpectedly moved to defense.
“I never had played defense before college,” said the 5-foot-8 Morrow. “It was a dramatic switch. It was preseason and Coach (Nancy Feldman) said, ‘Practice with the defenders. It was a surprise. Definitely a hard position to learn. There is a huge learning curve.”
It may have taken her a full three years. The first three years on Commonwealth Ave. were productive, but not spectacular. She never made even second-team all-conference.
This year the awards have rolled in: all-conference, America East Defender of the Year, All-Northeast, third-team All-American (top 50 division 1 players in the country) and now finalist for Academic All-American honors.
“I was pretty shocked,” she said of making the national coaches All-American team. “It’s a great honor. I’m very thankful. Honestly, that wasn’t even on the radar on the preseason. I’m just so happy and honored.”
Feldman said, “It was certainly a year where she broke out. We had some really talented older groups. When Jess came in, she played her role. She’s talented, with a great soccer brain, graceful. But it was a complementary role. There were kids that were stars.”
In 2011, BU finished 17th in the country. Nine top players left and then America East gave the Terriers the bad news.
In so many words it was, “Good luck next year as you defect to the Patriot League. And, by the way, your aren’t playing in the league tourney this fall.”
The Terriers won their sixth straight regular season title, going 8-0 in their final season in the league. But Stony Brook won the America East tourney and the automatic NCAA bid. For the first time since 2004, the Terriers stayed home for the postseason.
This had the feeling of a major rebuilding year. But Morrow, a former three-time Eagle-Tribune All-Star, made sure it didn’t happen.
“We tried to move past it,” said Morrow, who led the Terriers to a 12-6-1 record. “It was more playing for us. It put an asterisk on whoever won the America East knowing it should have been us.”
Feldman was thrilled that the Terriers won another league title and thrilled about Morrow’s play.
“There were just two seniors this year,” said the 18th-year Terrier coach. “It was a new team, a young team, with relatively inexperienced leaders.
“Jess slowly, thoughtfully and cautiously embraced it. You saw some of it last spring. But it really wasn’t until August. Day in and day out, Jess Morrow was the best player and the most consistent player. She didn’t necessarily have to do that the previous three years. It pushed her out of her comfort zone.”
The knock on “mid-major” schools like BU is they don’t play the level of competition some schools from power conferences do. But that isn’t necessarily the case.
This fall the Terriers played Stanford, which made the final four; Santa Clara, which finished the season No. 17; and BC, which made the second round of the NCAA tourney.
“Jess belonged,” said Feldman. “She belonged with the best players on the best teams. She’s as technical and as athletic. It was awesome for her and awesome for us.”
Few players nationwide were as important to their team this year. Morrow, who had come off the bench a few times in each of her first three seasons, rarely left the field. She sat out just 4 minutes, playing 1,754 out of a possible 1,758 minutes.
That scoring gene never completely left Morrow, the most talented No. 26 in the Comm. Ave/Fens area since Wade Boggs.
The co-captain had five assists in the fall, tied for the team lead.
She didn’t score any goals, but had three as a freshman and one as a sophomore.
“I always wished I played forward,” she admitted. “I never got rid of my forward instincts.”
Feldman said it isn’t an easy transition.
“Not everybody can make the transition. Only a small percent in my mind,” said Feldman, who coached All-American M.B. Pawlik of North Andover while at Plymouth State.
“She took more balls off our goal line than anyone in the history of the program. It was probably eight in her career. It’s not something I keep track of, but it was noticeable.”
Morrow’s competitive soccer career is likely over. She should have plenty of career opportunities considering the business major has a 3.79 GPA including a perfect 4.0 last spring.
She hopes to work in finance in Boston or Chicago.
“It still hasn’t hit me that I’m done with it,” she said. “I miss the team. It’s weird to have all this free time. Yes, it’s enjoyable.”