TCNJ's Jaeger: Cool, calm, collective
Lions' leading goal-scorer will head to Penn Veterinary School
Ali Jaeger is a young woman of many talents, but as she embarks on her senior season at TCNJ, her most valuable skill may be her ability to keep her composure.
A biology major from Hampton, N.J., Jaeger will continue her education next year at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, working toward her eventual goal of a veterinary practice that will allow her to treat both large and small animals.
“I’ve always had a fascination with animals,” Jaeger said. “When I was younger, I never wanted a baby doll. I just wanted animal figurines, and I loved reading animal stuff. In sixth grade, we got our family pet, a golden retriever, but I didn’t really grow up around a lot of animals. It’s just something I had an interest in.”
To be sure, treating animals which are either sick or wounded -- and, quite possibly, scared -- requires a certain calming influence, and for TCNJ head coach Sharon Pfluger, that quality is one of Jaeger’s greatest contributions to the Lions, who are third in the most recent Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Division III poll.
“She’s got a lot of composure,” Pfluger said. “Sometimes, in a tight game, you want your top kids to be trying their best, but you don’t want them to take so much responsibility on their shoulders that they feel too much pressure. Spectators don’t necessarily see her being composed, making smart decisions. Those things don’t tally on the scoreboard, but from my perspective, those are the things that make the game.”
Of course, there’s also the matter of Jaeger’s scoring prowess. After leading TCNJ last season with 86 goals and 111 points in 20 games, Jaeger has come out firing again 2011, sharing the team lead in goals with 10 in the Lions’ first three games while also handing out five assists. Along with Hamilton’s Sarah Bray, Jaeger is one of only two women in Division III named to the Watch List for the 2011 Tewaaraton Award, which honors the top player in the nation.
“She has been really successful in scoring,” Pfluger said, “and I think that right away, that’s going to grab attention. It’s not just the scoring, though. What she does on the field, all over the field, is pretty incredible, and I think people are noticing that.”
As much of an honor as the Tewaaraton nod is, Jaeger isn’t paying too much attention. She’s more concerned with making sure the Lions go as far as they can this season after coming up short last season against eventual NCAA champion Salisbury in the Division III regional finals.
“It’s a surprise to be listed among the top players in the nation,” Jaeger said. “It’s definitely an honor to be selected to that list of individuals, but that’s not what I focus on in the season. I really don’t worry about personal goals. I just work toward our ultimate team goal of winning a national championship.”
Jaeger’s humility and focus on the team doesn’t come as much of a surprise to her coach.
“She’s so humble,” Pfluger said. “She works hard for her team. She’s got a few other players who are just as strong as she, and she’s the first person to give credit to them. She credits [teammate] Leigh Mitchell as her role model.”
Jaeger’s “role model” currently leads the Lions in total points, and Mitchell, Jaeger and Kathleen Notos have combined to lead TCNJ to a strong start, with a fellow Top 10 team, No. 8 Cortland, the Lions’ most recent victim.
“We are really coming together well,” Jaeger said. “A lot of us have played together for a very long time, so we know each other well and we’re using that experience to our advantage.”
The win against Cortland came on the heels of a 20-1 thrashing of Kean in the Lions’ New Jersey Athletic Conference opener, and while TCNJ never appeared to be threatened, Jaeger and her teammates didn’t feel entirely comfortable with their 6-3 halftime lead. Jaeger, however, figured on the Lions’ first three goals of the second half, scoring her second and third goals of the game in the first five minutes after halftime, then setting up Mitchell for a goal less than a minute after Cortland scored to give TCNJ a five-goal lead that Cortland would never cut into.
“It never felt like we were necessarily dominating,” Jaeger said, “but it definitely means a lot, confidence-wise, beating a Top 10 team this early in the season. It shows that the hard work and preparation pay off.”
To Pfluger, it’s hard to imagine an individual who knows more about “hard work and preparation than Jaeger.
“She doesn’t know how not to work hard,” Pfluger said. “She’s an outstanding student. This kid, she doesn’t stop. Where I have to keep her in perspective is saying, ‘We’ve already had practice. Don’t put too much extra time into shooting.’ I have to stop her and say, ‘We’re done. Day’s over.’”
That’s good news for the Lions, and good news for the animals that Jaeger will work with in the years ahead. In the meantime, though, it’s bad news for the rest of the NJAC.