WOMEN’s SOCCER: Rookie setting scoring pace

Beth Wilberding

On Labor Day weekend last year, Western women’s soccer coaches went to the Atlanta Cup, one of the premier youth soccer tournaments in the country, to look at prospective recruits.

Of all the athletes in the tournament, one player stood out to the coaching staff – Jenna Silverberg.

And what they didn’t know was that Silverberg already had a Western connection.

Two summers ago, Silverberg played on her hometown Jacksonville Jade, a semi-professional soccer team, with then-sophomore Lady Topper Allison Nellis.

During their time in Florida, Nellis told Silverberg about Western, and Silverberg was excited to learn more.

She liked it enough to want to come to Western. Now after just 14 games, the freshman leads the team in scoring.

Coach Jason Neidell said first seeing Silverberg play and later finding out Nellis knew her was a “nice coincidence.”

“That connection really helped in the process of recruiting her,” Neidell said.

One of the reasons Silverberg decided to come to Western was because she already knew Nellis.

“I fell in love with the campus, the coaches, the atmosphere,” Silverberg said. “I knew I’d like it here.”

Silverberg began her soccer career in first grade, and she has been playing non-stop since.

“It’s just been my passion,” she said. “It’s pretty much been my life since I started playing.”

In high school, Silverberg led Florida’s Nease High School to a 2002 state championship and was named the Florida Times-Union player of the year.

This year she’s already tied the single season scoring record of 12 goals and was named Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week Oct. 7.

“Jenna strives to be the best she can be,” Neidell said. “Her work ethic is very consistent and she’s always looking for things she can do to make herself better.”

But Silverberg may have to get better fast with the subtraction of Nellis from the lineup for the rest of the season. Nellis tore her anterior cruciate ligament last week. She was the team’s second leading scorer.

With Nellis gone, Silverberg will be counted on to pick up the offensive slack – even after she already accounts for 41 percent of the offense. Nine players have scored goals for Western, but only two besides Silverberg, Nellis and junior Betsy Duncan – have scored four. Silverberg has tripled those totals.

Neidell said Silverberg’s club soccer play and semi-professional experience prepared her for Western.

“Physically, tactically, psychologically, she’s one of the more college-ready players we’ve had,” he said. “I think we expected her to score quite a few goals. We knew she was a good player. “

Silverberg is looking to help the team in any way possible, and that includes breaking the single-season scoring record.

She has three games left – starting tomorrow at 5 p.m. against Middle Tennessee – to set a new record.

“It’s not my main focus right now,” Silverberg said. “But it would be an awesome accomplishment.”

For now, Silverberg is focusing on contributing to the team’s goal of winning the Sun Belt Conference and her own goal of making the all-conference team.

Neidell said “it’s well within her ability” to receive the honor, adding that she’s probably a front-runner for Sun Belt Freshman of the Year.

Silverberg’s first season at Western has met all her expectations.

“Coming in, I knew I wanted to make a difference,” Silverberg said. “I had high expectations for myself, and goals I wanted to achieve. Starting and having playing time has helped my confidence.”

In the coming seasons, Neidell expects Silverberg to take a leadership role as she matures as a player.

“Jenna is really valuable to the team,” Neidell said. “(She’s) a hard worker and is a positive example with how she trains and plays.”

Reach Beth Wilberding at [email protected]