Jacobs: Lee finds athletic, spiritual fulfillment at Wheaton
It’s rare these days for an athlete to play more than one sport in college. It’s even rarer for that athlete to achieve the level of success that Jennifer Lee of St. Charles has.
The Wheaton College senior helped the Thunder women’s soccer team reach the NCAA Division III national semifinals and is a starting guard for the Wheaton’s women’s basketball team that carried a 17-3 record into Wednesday’s game at North Park.
“I just really love both of the sports and just couldn’t imaging picking one over the other,” said Lee, who helped Wheaton Academy win the 2009 IHSA Class 2A state soccer championship and was the IHSA Class 3A state champion in its 3-point showdown basketball shooting competition.
Despite those achievements, Lee said she planned to attend Baylor and not compete athletically, but said “the Lord changed by heart.”
Lee was happy with that decision.
“I’m actually the fourth generation of my family to go to Wheaton,” she said. “The college has been in my family for a long time. My grandma and grandpa met there.”
Her older sister, Taryne, also attended Wheaton and played soccer for the Thunder.
“I really wanted to play with her and also just continue to have a great Christian education,” Lee said. “I really love the motto Wheaton has – ‘For Christ and His Kingdom.’ ”
Lee said being able to play both sports she loved also contributed to her decision to attend Wheaton.
“The plan was to play soccer freshman year and just focus on basketball [after that], but I fell more in love with [soccer],” she said.
A defender on the soccer pitch, Lee started 21 matches for the Thunder as a freshman. A successful sophomore season was cut short by a torn meniscus in her left knee.
“I just planted my foot wrong and it gave out,” Lee said. “I ended up having to have surgery and was out for three months.”
The injury forced her to miss her entire sophomore basketball season.
As a junior, Lee appeared in 16 games on the basketball court for the Thunder, averaging 2.7 points and 1.3 rebounds a game. The 5-foot-6 guard moved into the starting lineup after Christmas break this season and is averaging 4.8 points and 2.4 rebounds a game. She’s still accurate from beyond the arc, hitting on 34.5 percent of her 3-point attempts, but her primary focus is not scoring.
“I think that defense always has been my strength – getting steals and keeping people energetic on the court,” Lee said. “When we play aggressive defense, that’s when we convert on offense.”
The Thunder are 8-2 in College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin play, and Lee said team goals include winning the conference championship and advancing into the national tournament.
“This season has been by far the best season I’ve been able to be a part of and actually contribute to the team,” she said. “I think this team has the potential to go further than any other team I’ve been on.”
Matching the success of the soccer team won’t be easy. That squad went 21-4-2 and its season didn’t end until a 2-1 loss to Emory University in the national semifinals Nov. 30 in San Antonio.
“I still don’t think I’ve had enough time to grieve the end of the season,” Lee said. “Soccer was a fun ride. It was really great making it as far as we did. … It was an unbelievable experience.”
Speaking of unbelievable experiences, Lee also has made two trips to Zambia over the past several years.
“Zambia is definitely a place that God has put in my heart,” Lee said. “A piece of my heart is over there. I absolutely love the people over there, love dancing with them and playing soccer with them.”
Her first trip was before her senior year at Wheaton Academy. Students from the school helped build a new school, medical clinic and church in a Zambian village.
The art major returned to the country after her freshman year of college to do some photography and graphic design work for Zambikes, a company that employs Zambians to build bicycles that are distributed throughout Africa.
“It’s just been really cool the experience God has let me have in Africa,” Lee said. “I’m still trying to figure out how my life is going to fit in with Africa, but I think the Lord’s plan will lead me there again in the future.”
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes the weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle. To submit information on area athletes competing in college, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.