Finishing kick gets Loo ready
By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Leila Wai
Jen Loo's favorite soccer memories of her time at Idaho State go all the way back to her freshman year, not so coincidentally the last time the Bengals had a winning season.
It's the reason she's looking forward to winning again in her final season.
"I'm expecting to be more of a leader on the field," said Loo, a senior defender and 2003 Mililani High graduate. "I want to have a good senior season; the past two have been kind of rough."
In Loo's freshman year, the Bengals advanced to the NCAA Tournament second round for the first time.
Loo scored the game-winner in the Big Sky Tournament championship to qualify Idaho State for the NCAA Tournament. She was the fifth and final shooter and made her shot in the penalty kicks portion of the NCAA first round when the Bengals upset No. 14 Utah, 1-0.
"It was pretty surreal," Loo said. "I was thinking, 'I'm doing this as a freshman.' "
But in her sophomore and junior seasons Idaho State went a combined 11-18-4 and failed to qualify for the conference tournament both years.
It was a hard adjustment for Loo, who was accustomed to winning after helping Mililani to two O'ahu Interscholastic Association championships and the state title in 2002.
"I was kind of shocked, because I didn't really know what the problem was," she said. "I was like, 'Why aren't we winning?' It was a letdown, that the season was over so quickly."
This season she welcomed first-year coach Allison Gibson, Loo's third coach in her four years at Idaho.
"So far, it's been really good. I like the new coach and the coaching staff," Loo said. "It seems like the team has improved so much in so little time."
And Gibson is counting on a lot from Loo, a two-time all-Big Sky Conference first team selection who is also a two-time all conference Academic Team member.
"I was expecting leadership (from Loo). She kind of anchors the defense." Gibson said. "She is in that class that was the last to experience a high level of success. I wanted to utilize their experience in knowing what it takes to get to that level again."
Loo has dealt with a lot of change in her time in Pocatello. Along with coaching changes, she changed positions and experienced a major shift in weather.
After an All-State career as a defender at Mililani, Loo was moved to forward as a freshman.
"It was totally different. I had a bigger role," she said. "But I didn't know how to play forward. It was a whole new learning experience, playing with my back to the goal."
When a new coach was hired for her sophomore season, Loo switched back to defender.
"I'm definitely more comfortable; I felt I could do my job better," she said. "I'm more confident. I didn't have to worry about scoring goals. It's more fun to steal the ball away from people and knock them around."
That is the role Gibson is looking for Loo to fill this season.
"She's a strong game player," Gibson said. "Her strength is in the game. She reads the game well, she tackles well. You know you're safe there with her speed, that she'll chase a player down and make that game-saving tackle."
It also took some time to get used to the weather change. Loo, who never played in weather colder than the 70s before she got to Pocatello, played in snow her freshman year.
"The last regular season game it was a snowstorm. We had to play with an orange ball to see it in the snow," she said. "It was really cold, and it kind of hurt sliding in the ice. It's kind of like playing in the rain; the ball spins and stops. I thought, 'How can you play in this? It's snow, it's cold.' All we could wear was shorts and our uniform."
After three years of trials, she has gained maturity and confidence, personally and athletically.
"I know my strengths and weaknesses. I know how to use my best abilities," Loo said. "Coming in my expectations were to make a really big impact, stand out, show people in Idaho what people in Hawai'i can do. They think of Hawai'i as a little island. I think I've done a pretty good job, but I don't think I've done what I wanted to do."
With one season remaining, she's determined to change that — and lead the Bengals to a winning season in the process.
Reach Leila Wai at firstname.lastname@example.org.