By Sally Adams
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
If someone had told 18-year-old Jennifer Dominguez that she'd one day be one of Iowa State's premier starting forwards, she probably would not have believed them. That's not to say that she didn't think it was possible, but Dominguez's original college plans didn't involve soccer at all.
It all started in high school, when Dominguez began looking for colleges. The Lubbock, Texas-native knew that she wanted to become a Cyclone since an early age. Her godparents graduated from Iowa State, and growing up, Dominguez had an itch to break out of Texas and try out a school up north.
"I've loved the Cyclones, loved the school my whole life, and something always told me that I'd come to Iowa State," Dominguez said. "My godparents influenced me as a child to be a Cyclone fan."
Dominguez was an involved athlete at Monterey High School, and her background in soccer and golf gained collegiate attention when she started her search, before she decided to avoid the student-athlete path.
"I chose to come to Iowa State without a sport," Dominguez said. "I got looked at by smaller schools for college soccer, but I decided I wanted something more. If I was going to play, I wanted to play at the highest level possible and not settle for anything less, so I decided that I'd rather go to the school that I love than play soccer at a school where I wasn't happy."
When the day came to hug her parents and little brother goodbye, Dominguez left Lubbock for Ames without any plans of being a student-athlete. But it didn't take long for the soccer bug to bite her once again.
After her first semester at Iowa State, Dominguez returned home for Christmas break. Soccer season was just kicking off in Texas, and she saw one headline in the newspaper that inspired her to make a decision that would change her life.
"My hometown's paper was doing the soccer season preview, and the headline was ‘Monterey Replaces Dominguez,'" she explained. "It went on to talk about what I did in high school and the success I had, and it sparked something in me. Seeing and hearing that at home made me realize how much I missed it, and I thought, ‘there is some way I have to get back into this ... I have to play again.'"
It was this realization that got the ball rolling on Dominguez's future career as an Iowa State forward. Upon her return to ISU, she contacted Tracy Grose, the Cyclone assistant soccer coach, to put herself out there.
"I gave her a little bit about my background, like what I'd done and who I'd played for," Dominguez explained. "I told her that I wanted the opportunity to try out for the team."
Within a week, Dominguez had her answer: Grose had offered an opportunity to try out. From there, Dominguez dove into the Cyclones' spring practices, and her efforts were not in vain. After three days of tryouts, Grose and ISU Head Coach Wendy Dillinger offered her a spot on the roster. Dillinger explained that Dominguez's resilience, along with her speed, strike, and drive, caught the eyes of the coaching staff during her trial.
"We could tell that she was right for the team after only three days," Dillinger said. "Our workouts are pretty tough for a kid who hasn't been training or lifting or playing at a high level, but we didn't see a drop-off in her performance level of what she was doing. She was gutting it out and it just showed that she was tough."
Once Dominguez had actually made the team, the real work began. With almost a year's time elapsed since the last time she suited up, she had her work cut out for her in order to make it in Division I soccer.
"It was tough. Not only are you trying to fit into the team dynamic, but you're trying to play catch-up," Dominguez remembered. "I was out of shape, my speed wasn't there and I was working to get my touch back to where it needed to be. I was just trying to get at my teammates' level, because they all had about a year ahead of me at that point."
As a walk-on, her form wasn't the only thing she needed to work on. Soon after her acceptance onto the team Dominguez found herself slowly but surely easing her way into the tight-knit team's circle.
"It was like any other new kid joining anything," Dominguez said. "I was pretty quiet and I didn't talk much at first, but I made friends with a few of the girls in the beginning, and now we're much closer than we were at the start."
Dillinger observed that Dominguez's transition onto the team went so well because of the rookie's shining personality.
"I think the team took to her very quickly," Dillinger said. "She's a good kid and fit in really well very quickly personality-wise. She's fun to be around and everybody loves her."
Fall 2010 marked Dominguez's first season as a Big-12 student-athlete. She opened her scoring campaign in the game against Oklahoma, and saw action in all 20 games. In the 2011 season, she is first in goals on the team, with five, and has started every game. The highlight of her sophomore season was when she scored the game-winning goal against Texas Tech in double overtime, leading Iowa State to its first conference victory of the season.
Dillinger noted how Dominguez's progression over the past two seasons has made her a formidable opponent on the soccer field, and a valued contributor for the Cyclone offense.
"She's been an asset in terms of her play, her work ethic, her commitment, her drive - all things that you'd need in a competitive player," Dillinger said. "She could really come to put her stamp on Iowa State soccer, judging from how she continues to grow and develop athletically."
So what's next for Dominguez? Starting a little late in her college career certainly didn't inhibit her success and she, along with her coaches, see big things in the future.
"In the next few years, we can see her play herself into a captain's role," Dillinger said. "She just keeps setting the bar higher and higher."