Women's Soccer Advances to NCAA 16
LMU women’s soccer, in their third appearance in the NCAA championship tournament, face West Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen on Sunday, Nov. 22 (to follow the team, go to www.lmulions.com). The Volunteers are the third top 10 team the Lions have faced this season and the sixth in the top 25.
The Lions take the field on West Virginia’s home pitch in Morgantown after defeating the Golden Bears of UC Berkeley and the Golden Gophers of the University of Minnesota. The team’s historic run includes most victories in a season (15), an undefeated record at home (10-0), the WCC Coach of the Year Award for Coach Michelle Myers, and an LMU record for assists in a career: 20, by Jo Blankenship ’16.
Senior leadership — nine players will complete their LMU careers when the NCAA tournament ends — is a major ingredient in the team’s success this year, not least due to Blankenship’s role as co-captain. She says she entered her final season a little more focused than usual.
“It was definitely a little bit different — I put a lot more focus on it because I want to see a good senior year,” said the standout midfielder. “But for the most part, it reflected my other summers.”
In some ways, it’s actually the mirror image of last summer: Blankenship learned this past August that for the second consecutive year she has been named to the 11-member All-West Coast Conference Preseason Team, which is selected based on a poll of the conference’s coaches. At season’s end, she was, indeed, a first-team selection. The midfielder finished the season among the league leaders in points, goals and assists.
Blankenship — known to most as Jo — was born in Clovis, California, just outside of Fresno. She went to Roosevelt High School in Eastvale, Calif., where she lettered in varsity soccer all four years and was named the 2012 Big VIII Athlete of the Year — all while maintaining a better-than-perfect GPA. Once she got to LMU, she donned the No. 10 jersey and quickly set herself apart as one of two freshmen to start in all 19 of the team’s matches.
“In college you spend literally every day training, so that was a transition,” Blankenship said. “When I came in my freshman year, I was really excited — nervous for sure, but more excited to get into it with the team, build relationships and try to help the program.” She donned the No. 10 jersey and quickly set herself apart as one of two freshmen to start in all 19 of the team’s matches.
Which she did. In her first season she contributed three goals and five assists, earning an All-WCC Honorable Mention. As a sophomore, she led the Lions with 11 points on four goals and three assists and was named to the All-WCC Second Team. The following year, she tied for the team lead with six assists, again being named to the All-WCC Second Team and earning her first Preseason All-WCC selection. At the end of her final WCC season, she was second in the conference in points (20), second in points per game (1.00), tied for third in goals (7), and tied for second in assists (6).
All of that, says Blankenship, is “amazing and very humbling” — but it doesn’t compare to the intangibles. As team captain, she prides herself on how far the team has come as a unit since her freshman year, and the supportive atmosphere new players find when they start out.
“Watching that come to life this year and then seeing how the team has clicked and bonded compared to my freshman year makes me the happiest,” Blankenship said.
Long-term, Blankenship plans to use her biology degree to become a pediatric nurse practitioner. But soccer is not quite out of the equation, she said, mentioning the possibility of playing abroad after she graduates.
“I’m definitely not done.”