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Marina's Simmons Enjoys Being a Big Fish at Denver

February 06, 1996|PAUL McLEOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Snow is piling up outside the tiny dormitory room. The air is crisp and cold. The soccer field across the way is a frozen plain.

Jennifer Simmons, 18, is on her own for the first time and she's a long way from Huntington Harbour. Yet Simmons, former Marina High goalkeeper, appears to have brushed aside all the problems freshmen experience when miles from home. She is having the time of her life at the University of Denver.

"I'm very happy with my decision," said Simmons, who was the starting goaltender for the Pioneer Women last fall when Denver was 14-2-2 and qualified for the Division II playoffs for the first time.

There are those who think Simmons, an all-county performer and a member of a three-time Southern Section Division I champion, sold herself short by attending Denver, which offered only a partial scholarship.

But Simmons had other reasons for choosing Denver, among them playing time. "I saw that I could start here as a freshman," she said. "I could have gone to a couple other schools and I would have gotten maybe five games in as a freshman and maybe by my junior year I could have started. I have trouble sitting on the bench. I just wanted to play."

Denver Coach Jeff Hooker said Simmons performed more like a senior last fall. She had six shutouts in 15 starts and rated among the top Division II goalkeepers in the country, giving up 11 goals.

"I saw late in the season how composed she was," Hooker said. "When she first came in she wasn't as fit as she wanted to be, and once she realized that she took it upon herself to get sharp. She was very, very good down the stretch when we had to win games to get into the playoffs and she was very, very composed. She never panics.

"Her adjustment has probably been the smoothest that any freshman has made," said Hooker, who played soccer at UCLA and also plays for the A League Colorado Foxes. "We've had a lot of girls come in here, get homesick and whine about it. She is the type that went home for Christmas and after a week she wanted to come back here and stay."

Simmons had opportunities to go to larger schools. She was pursued by Nebraska, UC Irvine and Pacific, all Division I schools. The latter two offered full scholarships. The best Denver could do was to cover about three-quarters of the $16,000 annual tuition and the promise that it would move up to Division I by 1997.

Scholarship aid and high-profile programs were way down Simmons' list when she discussed college plans with her parents, Kathy and Larry. Simmons wanted to be comfortable with her teammates, get into a good biology program, play a lot and experience life on her own.

Irvine Coach Marine Cano, who was a professional goalkeeper, asked Simmons to be a redshirt her freshman year and said that she would then have had to beat out a couple of returning players for a job.

Simmons said Irvine was just "too close to home."

In the end, it all came down to Denver and a chance to play.

"She was always very independent," said former classmate and friend, Stacey Newton, Marina's frosh-soph team soccer coach. "She always seemed like she knew what she was doing."

Not that Simmons doesn't get a little homesick once in a while. Her sister Theresa, 10, shadowed her last spring. When Simmons wasn't playing club soccer, she was a regular as a goalkeeper coach for her sister's team. Simmons says she thinks of her younger sister often.

"I think she misses me the most," Simmons said. "She talks to me all the time on the phone. But since I'm happy, I think my family is happy for me. They think I'm a little too far from home, but they're happy with the decision I made.

"When you are making a choice like this, you just go with what you want to do," she said. "I know [scholarship] money sounds good to a lot of people, and some schools offer more than others, but if you are not going to be happy at a college, more money is just not worth it."

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