By Sarah McDowell
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Just for fun. That’s why Jaelene Hinkle started playing soccer. When she started at the age of four, she had no idea where it would take her.
Like most athletes, as a child, the Denver, Colorado native would watch the U.S. national team on TV and wish to be just like them. Little did she know, Hinkle would have multiple opportunities to play for and train with national teams as well as become an NCAA All-American.
“It’s so awesome just because you’re playing with the best players in the country,” Hinkle said about her time working with the U-17, U-20 and U-23 national programs. “You’re getting so much better by even just being there for a week and training even if you’re not playing games. I love whenever I get the opportunity to go into a camp and get better.”
She was finally seeing all of her hard work pay off when she got to college, but she had so much more room to grow through the Texas Tech program.
Head coach Tom Stone said she has improved in just about every aspect of soccer. He said Hinkle went from having “bright moments” in the beginning of her collegiate career to now putting together complete games.
According to Stone, Hinkle became both a shut down defender as well as a dynamic attacking force.
Hinkle credits her progression as an athlete to Stone. She said there was a dramatic change between her freshman year and now.
“I think Tom has really helped to develop me as a person and in my game,” Hinkle said. “Going professional is definitely a goal. Going national team is a goal, so I think having a coach that fully supports you and a team that’s fully behind you has dramatically improved my game.”
Hinkle’s skills aren’t the only aspects that have been apparent throughout her time at Texas Tech. Many of her teammates and coaches would consider Hinkle as one of the leaders on the team.
Junior forward Janine Beckie said Hinkle is an all-around great leader on the team and is something she inspires younger players on the team to emulate. According to Hinkle, she tries to lead by example, similar to how previous seniors and captains led her.
“My leadership is just to push everyone to be the best they can be,” Hinkle said. “If that means just working on their game a little early before practice or going full-out in a training session, then that’s what has to be done.”
Beckie describes Hinkle’s attitude as relentless. Hinkle is known to give 100 percent effort every practice and every game regardless of anything else going on in her life.
That’s Hinkle’s best quality, Beckie said, because not very many athletes are able to forget about their personal problems when they step on the field.
That relentless attitude is driven by her competitive nature, according to Stone. He said Hinkle’s high standard is contagious to everyone else.
The senior defender said her goal for this season has nothing to do with the potential of becoming a two-time All-American. Hinkle’s main concern is the team and getting the team as far as possible in the postseason.
By putting the team first, Hinkle displays those leadership qualities in which everyone speaks so highly.
“It’s in the back of your mind because it was such a cool experience,” Hinkle says about the potential of being named an All-American again. “Of course my goal is just to get this team as far as we can go this year, and if All-American happens again, it happens again.”
Not only does Hinkle work hard on the field, but she also puts in the same amount of effort in the classroom. The senior human sciences major was named a first team Academic All-Big 12 last season as she ended the year as one of only three Red Raiders with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average.
Hinkle’s presence on the team will be missed next year, according to Beckie, but she said Hinkle and fellow senior caption Paige Strahan have set a lasting example for what is expected of the program.
Whether it’s landing that dream job or continuing to play soccer, Hinkle seems to have numerous doors open for her after graduation because of her dedication on and off the field.
Stone believes Hinkle will be drafted in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) as well as have international opportunities with the U.S. national team program, so there is a chance that Texas Tech soccer fans will be able to continue to follow the senior defender and captain after this season.
“When she gets on the field, it’s just the team, the field and the game,” Beckie said about Hinkle. “Nothing else matters.”