Jessica Yu’s freshman season with Oregon soccer didn’t go as planned.
Despite a high school career during which she led her school in scoring all four years and racked up accolades, Yu struggled to acclimate to the college game. She finished the year with only a single start and zero goals. After spending her offseason grinding to improve, she is starting to make her mark on the Ducks.
“I think last year I struggled a lot with my confidence,” Yu said. “I just had to take a deep breath, play my game and focus on having fun again.”
It’s clear that in her sophomore year the forward has worked out the kinks that hamstrung her debut season. Yu scored her first career goal against Montana on Sept. 15 and followed it up with a second one against Idaho State two days later.
Perhaps most telling of her progress is her playing time. After finishing 2016 with 545 minutes played, she’s already been on the field for 360 minutes this season after only eight games — seven of which she started.
Her father, Jeff Yu, first noticed something different about his daughter’s approach to the game this summer following the team’s trip to Beijing, China.
“She just started working out, especially on the fitness,” Jeff said. “I think that was a big deal. The first year was getting used to a whole new environment, and I think she had a better sense of what to expect coming into this year.”
One of the key aspects of Yu’s development was working with Oregon associate head coach Manny Martins, who often works one-on-one with players to improve aspects of their game.
“Manny’s been great,” Yu said. “Just going over film with me and then coming out in Papé [Field] and doing a lot of work with quickening my trigger on my shots.”
With two goals already, it’s apparent that Yu’s work with Martins has taken her finishing skills to the next level. The other key to her newfound scoring success: Yu’s teammates.
“It’s amazing,” Yu said. “That goal [against Montana] obviously wouldn’t have happened if Marissa (Everett) doesn’t give me that perfect ball through. And Char (Curran) has been just great — a very dynamic player in the midfield. As the season’s gone on, we’ve gotten more comfortable with each other, and that’s been incredible.”
For Ducks head coach Kat Mertz, Yu’s struggles were part of the college experience — and her success is no fluke.
“That’s college soccer,” Mertz said. “You come in as a freshman. You work hard. You develop. You don’t see all the minutes that you want — you’re used to being a 90-minute player for your club team. She’s worked hard at it. She comes in to do film with coach Manny. She does extra sessions. For her to just get that goal, hopefully that’s the first of many.”
Follow Aaron Alter on Twitter @aaronalter95