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Cal’s Medina becomes player-coach despite obstacles

By Dean Caparaz Daily Planet Correspondent
Friday October 19, 2001

Jennifer Medina starts her day with a cup of coffee. Sitting in a local Starbuck’s, the diminutive 23-year-old appears to be just another Cal student trying to stay awake as another semester rolls by.  

Medina, “Pooh” to her friends, is much more than that. Every day around 6 a.m., she wakes up, walks to the nearby coffeehouse and plans her hectic schedule. As a member of the Golden Bears women’s soccer team, Medina is part of a nationally-ranked squad that’s aiming for postseason success. When the American studies major is not going to class, doing homework or playing, she coaches. Medina assists the Cal coaching staff, runs her own soccer camps and coaches the under-13 Berkeley Mavericks girls team.  

“I love coaching,” she said. “It’s fun to hear when the kids are having fun playing. It means more to me than anything, than any A on a paper or anything to me.”  

Medina, who had been coaching the U-12 Mavericks, began coaching the U-13 team last August. The club’s preseason was held during Cal’s preseason, but Cal coach Kevin Boyd was OK with her job, as long as there were no conflicts. 

Boyd has seen her coaching first-hand. Medina, an intelligent player who is now in her fifth year at Cal, works with Golden Bear teammates as a player-coach.  

“We’ve used her in ways such as working technically with players on an individual basis or working tactically with a player on a part of their game, whether in 1-v-1 defending or playing cover defense,” Boyd said. “She does a great job of that. She’s worked with Cami [Boswell] with her defense and Kassie [Doubrava] with her defense. Other than that, we’ve just used her as a sounding board, heard her thoughts and ideas. She has a great understanding of the game.”  

Medina had a promising playing career as a youth, but injuries and illness has limited her playing time in college. In 1994, her Sunnyvale Roadrunners team won the under-17 national club championship. Her club featured some future stars – U.S. World Cup and Olympic veteran Lorrie Fair, WUSA defender Ronnie Fair and former Cal teammate Regina Holan. All went on to greater playing fame than Medina, but it was Medina who earned MVP honors at the national championship.  

Two years later, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Doctors don’t know why she developed MS. It could have been due to a spinal cord injury she suffered while playing in high school, the stress surrounding her mother’s death in 1995, the stress of her senior year of high school or other reasons.  

Medina takes a weekly intramuscular injection of Avonex to help control the symptoms, which include muscular weakness, visual difficulties and numbness in various parts of her body, but she says that injuries are harder to deal with than MS. During her freshman season, she suffered two concussions, one during a game and one when she was hit by a car. At the end of her freshman season, the Cal senior suffered a hip flexor/quad muscle injury that caused her to redshirt her sophomore season. During spring training of her junior year, Medina tore the MCL of one knee and played sparingly – just three games – in the fall of 2000. She has played just once in 13 games this season.  

“The thing with all these injuries, the MS makes it harder to heal,” she said. “It’s more about the injuries and waiting for them to heal. Random things would happen to me in my four years. It’s just ridiculous.”  

Medina created First Touch Soccer Camps and Clinics when she was 17 in 1996. She comes from coaching stock – her father, Frank, coached her Roadrunners to their national title.  

In 1997, she asked Holan and the Fairs to join her venture.  

“I told them, ‘I’ll run it and you guys will just act like you’re coaching,’” said Medina, who splits her proceeds evenly with her fellow coaches.  

What started out as a one-week training camp for one club team has grown to a camp for several teams ranging in ages from 9-18. It’s big enough that First Touch sessions are held in three places in the Bay Area: San Carlos, the Mountain View/Sunnyvale area, and Berkeley. First Touch even has a Web site – 

Medina has a more difficult time planning her First Touch schedule with her friends and colleagues living outside the Bay Area. Both Fairs play in the WUSA, with Lorrie in Philadelphia and Ronnie in New York. Holan lives in Prague in the Czech Republic.  

Coaching could take a back seat after Medina graduates in May; she wants to play professional soccer in England. The United States is the only country with a true professional women’s soccer league, but the English soccer federation says it will start its own women’s pro league by 2003, and Medina has already played in the semi-pro league there.  

Ultimately, both Medina and Boyd see her joining the coaching profession full time.  

“Coaching is going to be her career, and should be,” Boyd said. “She’s patient and explains things very well. She has an ability to explain things in multiple ways. She can demonstrate things, too. She will be an outstanding coach, and is already an outstanding coach.”