Gateway’s Jenkins getting her kicks on soccer, football teams

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Sunday, October 4, 2020 | 11:01 AM


Joelle Jenkins doesn’t have a slow gear when it comes to playing soccer.

The Gateway senior, a physical four-year starter on defense, wouldn’t have it any other way. Dedication and drive are things that endear her to teammates, Gators coach Kelly Bender said.

“Watching Joelle step into a leadership role for our team this past year has been a pleasure,” Bender said.

“Though she almost always led in her actions and her play since her freshman year, her passion and leadership only increased as she became a senior and a captain. She can be tough, yet compassionate. She is confident, yet coachable. She is strong, yet full of integrity.”

While soccer is her top priority, Jenkins also is getting her kicks as a third-year member of the Gateway football team alongside twin brother Jayson.

A sibling bond, she said, has gotten stronger through their work together as they knock footballs through the uprights. They stand next to each other on the sidelines and are next to each other on the roster: Jayson is No. 22, and Joelle wears No. 23.

“We really encourage each other,” Joelle said. “Jayson is always there to help me with the little things in kicking. I’ve improved a lot since my sophomore year. It’s pretty special feeling.”

Gateway girls soccer entered the week 2-3 overall and 1-2 in Section 1-AAA. The Gators hadn’t played since a Sept. 23 2-0 loss to section rival Kiski Area. Covid-related concerns shut down Gateway fall athletic programs during the final week of September. The hope is to resume practices and games next week.

“I feel that we’ve played pretty well and have made progress,” Jenkins said. “We have a young team, and, hopefully, we can make another run to the playoffs.”

Jenkins recalled last year’s playoff heartbreaker: a loss on penalty kicks to eventual Class AAA runner-up Plum in the first round.

Defense was a calling card for the Gators in 2019, and Jenkins helped the team record seven shutouts and allow just 27 goals in 19 games.

Jenkins said the key for her soccer development over the past several seasons has come in the offseason, when she has increased activities such as on-field footwork drills, weightlifting and running for speed and endurance.

“Joelle’s work ethic is so valuable to the team,” Bender said. “Whether it be school, soccer or football, I know she will give it her all. She isn’t afraid to ask questions. She only wants the best for both her and her teammates, and she will put in the work to achieve that.”

Joelle opened eyes kicking a football during the summer before her sophomore year when she got a chance to kick while attending one of Jayson’s practices.

“I kicked one and made it,” she recalled. “I liked it, and my brother and others encouraged me to give it a try and join the team.”

As the junior varsity kicker in 2018, Joelle also pondered the possibility of kicking in a varsity game. That chance came against Plum in Week 2.

“At the beginning of the season, we were blowing teams away,” she said. “They kept saying to me, ‘You’re going to get in and get a chance to kick.’ That night, we had a big lead in the first half. They put in the JV in the second half, and I got my chance. I was so nervous, but at the same time, Jayson and others had prepared me for that moment.”

Joelle drilled an extra point in the second half of the Gators’ 55-0 win over the Mustangs.

“I was so excited. I had been practicing extra points, but to do it in a game was different,” she said.

Jenkins has had other opportunities to kick in junior varsity and JV games since.

Last year, she would leave soccer practice and get dressed in the car as her parents drove her to wherever the Gators were playing. That hasn’t been an issue this season as Gateway’s two games, wins over Franklin Regional and Bethel Park, were at home.

She was able to make it to the Gators first JV game Sept. 12, but with a conflicting schedule the next Saturday, a soccer game against Penn-Trafford took precedence.

“You could tell she feels bad about it because she really loves the opportunity to kick in a football game,” said Mo Washington, an assistant coach with the Gators who works with the kickers. “She loves being around the team, and the team loves having her. Everyone treats her as just another player. She has earned that respect with her dedication and work ethic over the past couple of years. She has worked so hard to become a better kicker, and that shows in her confidence.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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