CRIMSON TIDE: Mariel Jenkins heads up the field in action this spring in her senior season for the Harvard women’s lacrosse team. The former Princeton Day School standout ended her college career on a high note, earning second-team All-Ivy League honors as she scored two goals this spring for the Crimson and had 15 ground balls and 10 caused turnovers.
(Photo by Gil Talbot, Courtesy of Harvard’s Office of Athletic Communications)
For Mariel Jenkins, blazing speed was her calling card as she starred for the Princeton Day School girls’ lacrosse team and then joined the Harvard women’s squad.
After a promising debut season for the Crimson in 2010, defender Jenkins hit a major road bump in the fall of her sophomore year.
“In practice I was going for a ground ball and it felt like someone had shot me in the knee,” said Jenkins, who suffered a cartilage injury that required micro-fracture surgery. “I had to get my kneecap drilled; I was on crutches for eight weeks.”
While Jenkins was frustrated to be sidelined that spring, she took some steps that helped her become a better player in the long run.
“I stood alongside the coaches all spring,” recalled Jenkins. “I learned so much being out there and seeing what the coaches do. When you are in one spot, you see the field from that position. I was able to get a broader perspective. My biggest thing was clearing the ball. I looked at where spaces opened up on the field. I had strategies in my head.”
Upon her return as a junior, Jenkins applied that new perspective and earned All-Ivy League honorable mention honors in 2012 as she piled up 17 ground balls and three caused turnovers. This spring, Jenkins ended her career with a bang, getting named as a second-team All-Ivy performer.
Earning that accolade in her final campaign was the culmination of the process that started with Jenkins’ injury.
“I was really excited, it is always nice to get recognition,” said Jenkins, who scored two goals this spring with 15 ground balls and 10 caused turnovers.
“I had one year where I had no statistics. It was nice to come back and work hard and see that get recognized. It was great to be in a group with so many good players.”
As a grade schooler, Jenkins wasn’t working toward becoming a great athlete. “I actually danced ballet all of my life,” said Jenkins.
“I was a dancer. I started sports late. I didn’t pick up a stick, field hockey or lacrosse, until 6th or 7th grade. I was going down the path of being a dancer. I fell in love with field hockey and lacrosse in gym class.”
By the time she got to PDS, Jenkins had shifted her focus. “In high school, I just played sports,” said Jenkins, who also starred for the Panther field hockey team.
“I didn’t think about playing in college until I started playing with Tri-State all stars. There were lot of good players there and everyone was looking to play D-1. Some coaches started reaching out to me.”
Deciding that Harvard had a similar feeling to hometown Princeton but in a more urban environment, Jenkins headed to Cambridge.
Upon hitting the field in college, Jenkins realized that she was going against some very good players. “It is so much faster and the stick skills are unbelievable,” said Jenkins.
“A lot of people are ambidextrous and shoot equally well with either hand. The chemistry and coordination on offense is so much better because you practice more.”
In keeping pace, Jenkins outran her weaknesses. “One thing that helped me was foot speed,” said the slender 5‘5 Jenkins.
“It was good that I was fast because it made up for my stick skills. I relied on my speed. When I talk to a high school player, I tell them to play more wall ball and work on going left-handed.”
In returning from her knee injury, Jenkins put in extra effort to get the most out of her final two seasons of lacrosse.
“I eased back into it in fall ball, which was good,” said Jenkins. “I had no problems with the knee after that. That fall, we changed the way we practiced. We did more individual work. I was able to cultivate my defensive skills. Being injured, I came out and worked harder. I missed playing. I had in my head that I had two years to play the sport that I love and I worked 20 times harder.”
While Harvard had a hard season in 2013 as it went 3-11 overall and 2-5 in Ivy play, Jenkins still enjoyed the spring.
“We had a six-person senior class; we love to play together,” said Jenkins.
“The freshman group really helped. We had an amazing amount of team chemistry. I never have been on a team that tight. The record didn’t show it. We had some close losses.”
In Jenkins’ view, the Crimson should have a better record going forward.
“I was the only senior on low defense playing with three freshmen,” said Jenkins.
“The freshmen can be good, but having a year under your belt makes a difference. We were playing against teams that were more experienced. We saw that we were so young; there are some good things to come. I think in the last game against Columbia [an 18-11 win] we showed the improvement.”
For Jenkins, playing lacrosse proved to be one of the best things she did at Harvard.
“I could not have imagined my college experience without it,” said Jenkins, whose Harvard experience was also enhanced by the presence on campus of younger sister Sydney, a rising junior and field hockey star for the Crimson.
“It was the No. 1 positive thing that I did. It was one big learning experience and I made some of the closest friends I will ever have. I think managing time was the biggest thing that I learned. You learn to compartmentalize. There was the camaraderie aspect, the seniors are going off to different cities but we will stay in contact, we are really close.”
Jenkins, for her part, is heading off to New York City where she will be applying those lessons in working for Morgan Stanley.
“I became very interested in why people make decisions in their investments,” said Jenkins, a psychology major.
“I will be on the sales and trading desk. My desk will be in the middle of the trading floor. It will be fast-paced and competitive. At the end of the day, there is a score. It is really competitive. I like to see where I compare, that is the athlete in me.”