Nov. 3, 1999
By Alan Wasielewski
Jenny Heft knew she wanted to play collegiate soccer at one of the top programs in the nation. She was happy with her decision to attend Notre Dame, but shortly afterwards came the biggest surprise of all. Notre Dame won the 1995 NCAA championship during her senior year at Pius XI High School. Suddenly, Heft was a member of the best team in the nation.
"It was a nice surprise, but it might have made me a little more nervous coming into the program than I expected," Heft said about the title.
The Germantown, Wis., native, is now a senior forward on the 1999 Notre Dame women's soccer team that is currently ranked sixth in the nation and poised for another postseason run at the NCAA crown. She is one of the leaders of the team today, but had to adjust to a diminished role when she first arrived on campus. In the end, on a championship team loaded with talent, the 5-2 Heft would make a big impression as a freshman.
"It was a little hard at first to adjust to not starting because I was accustomed to starting every game in high school," said Heft. "Eventually as a freshman I became content with coming off the bench and, in the end, I was probably getting as much time on the field as I would have received as a starter."
Heft prided herself on being able to provide a spark off the bench when called upon. It didn't take long for her to show that ability. In her first collegiate game at Providence she scored a goal and had three assists. In her second game against Rutgers, she scored the game winning goal. Quickly she became a weapon that the Notre Dame coaches could not keep on the bench for long. Also in that first year, Heft experienced the thrill of playing in the NCAA championship game against North Carolina.
"It was awesome to just step out on that field," Heft said about that final game which Notre Dame would lose in double overtime. "There were about 9,000 fans there. It was one of the biggest games I had ever been able to play in."
Her dream to play among the elite in college soccer was fulfilled. Heft wouldn't be satisfied with just an impressive rookie season. Over the last three years she has steadily progressed into the most prolific goal scorer in Notre Dame women's soccer history.
"The progression into the starting lineup was so gradual I didn't really notice it," Heft said. "There were times I knew I had to step up my play though."
In her junior year, the team went through what Heft refers to as a "slump." During a 1-1-1 stretch that included a 1-1 tie to Connecticut, a 3-2 overtime loss to Seton Hall, and a 1-0 double overtime win at Michigan, Heft scored all of Notre Dame's goals.
"As nice as it was to score all those points, it was frustrating," Heft said. "We have so many scorers on this team and for some reason we just were not putting it together."
Heft's career has become a long list of impressive accomplishments. She holds the Notre Dame record for career goals with 77 after scoring against Miami in the BIG EAST championship quarterfinals and the school mark for goals in a season with 28 in 25 games in 1998. Her two hat tricks in NCAA tournament play is a record she shares with U.S. national soccer team member Mia Hamm. She was also voted as the Notre Dame National Monogram Club team MVP in 1998.
These accomplishments are not what drives Heft today. She is dedicated to leading the team back to the National Championship.
"One of the reasons I came to Notre Dame was because I wanted that championship so badly," Heft said. "We truly believed we would have won it again by now. So many great opportunities have passed us by. It has been disappointing in a sense, and to leave here without a championship would be very upsetting to me. All of the seniors this year came in wanting and expecting the same things, and nothing less than a championship will be accepted right now."
As Notre Dame begins their drive through the NCAA championship, Heft is reluctant to reflect on her personal goals. No matter the outcome of the 1999 season for the team, Jenny Heft lived her dream of playing for a great collegiate soccer program. And as that dream played out, she also became one of the program's greatest players.