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Senior forward Natalie Jenks hopes her team will advance further than it did last season in the NCAA tournament. Jenks’ post-graduation plans are still undetermined, but her options include attending graduate school or taking her talents overseas.

Humor binds close-knit Lobos

nicole11@unm.edu

Natalie Jenks and her teammates on the UNM women’s soccer team voluntarily practice every day during the summer, which Jenks started doing after she wasn’t fit enough to play her freshman year.

“We have a blue-collar work ethic, your fitness level determines a lot,” Jenks said. “I just didn’t come to the team with that mentality, I wasn’t fit enough. I didn’t know what to expect. I finished my freshman year and I was like ‘I guess I kind of have to do stuff over the summer.’”

Jenks enters her senior season as the team’s lead forward, and she said she hopes the team will once again win the MWC regular-season and tournament championships, and receive a berth in the Women’s College Cup.

“I have never played with a more talented group of people,” she said. “We all have the same goals and we’re all so motivated. I’ve always dreamed of playing at this level, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to play like this again.”

Jenks said the women play only five home games in the upcoming season, so they will be on the road constantly. The players will miss almost every Thursday and Friday of school during the season, and Jenks said the teammates are incredibly close. She said four team-member parents have died over the past three years, and that the players have been there for each other through hard times.

“We’re almost like a family,” she said. “We’re practicing 20 hours per week together, we’re doing homework together, we try to get classes together. Everyone on the team has had some bad things happen, but we’re all there for each other a lot.”

Although team members have faced many personal struggles, Jenks said they are always lighthearted and joking at practice and on the field. She said a group of teammates once stole another team member’s teddy bear and made a ransom video with scary music. She said they sometimes put notes in the freshmen’s lockers that say “You’ve been cut.”

“We’re all pretty lighthearted, we’re just joking all the time,” Jenks said. “We’re really competitive, but we’re not so serious before games, and I think that’s when we play our best.”

Jenks’ friend and teammate Kelli Cornell said the team has certain nicknames for Jenks.

“She’s just a pretty, funny girl,” she said. “We call her Nattlesnakes or Natty Long Legs because she has long legs.”

But once the game starts, Jenks said, the joking stops.

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“One thing I really like about soccer is you aren’t thinking about anything, you’re not thinking about how tiring this run is going to be, you’re not thinking about outside factors, your mind’s almost blank,” she said. “There was one game where fighter planes were running over us, and I didn’t realize it until halftime.”

Jenks said she doesn’t have any pregame rituals, besides making herself look nice for the games. She said she straightens her strawberry-blonde hair, puts on mascara and paints her nails a different color before every game. And she always wears her lucky purple headband.

“I’m one of those people who has to be looking good for me to focus well,” she said. “Like for school, if my room’s not clean, I will have to organize everything before I can start my homework because I have to be in a clear mindset.”

Jenks said her parents introduced her to soccer when she was 5, and it was her favorite sport.

“My dad likes to pretend he knows things about soccer,” she said. “He tells me ‘you need to do this and that in the game’ and I’m like ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about.’”

Jenks said people often don’t have much of a reaction when she tells them she plays Division I soccer.

“A lot of people are like ‘Oh that’s cool,’” she said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize the time and energy commitment we put into it. It’s more than just showing up to practice every day, you have classes. You have to be there physically and mentally.”

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