CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Each Tuesday through the women’s soccer season, Charlotte49ers.com will feature alumnae of the program in celebration of the program’s 20th campaign in 2013. Former players were selected at random for the Q&A and the plan was to include all eras of the program, dating back to its inception in 1994.
This week’s edition features Jenn (Howell) Tilley (1999-2002). Tilley, a Marietta, Ga., native, played all four seasons for Neil Roberts and was a member of the program’s second NCAA Tournament squad in 2002. She started 68 of the 71 games in which she played as a goalkeeper throughout her tenure with the Niners. She posted a 37-20-8 record with a 1.14 goals-against average, 20.0 shutouts, 324 saves in 6236:47 between the pipes.
She is the school’s career leader with her 324 stops and eight ties, while her games played, games started, minutes played, wins, decisions and shutouts totals are all second among all-time 49ers.
Howell garnered All-Conference USA Second Team accolades as a sophomore (2000) and junior (2001) in addition to five Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week plaudits during her career. She also earned a pair of national team of the week honors, from Soccer America and Soccer Buzz, and was credited with two assists in Charlotte’s 5-0 home victory over Houston Sept. 24, 2000.
1. What factors led to your decision to attend Charlotte?
My initial exposure to UNC Charlotte was through Robbie Church, the head coach at the time. Robbie was not only a great coach, but he cared about his players. He could see the big picture and potential in not only his players, but his program. His personal pursuit to bring me to UNC Charlotte did not feel fake, like it had with other schools, and he made me go visit two additional schools when I told him I was sold on Charlotte, just to make sure that it was the right fit for me. Charlotte was a very attractive program for a number of reasons. It was not a Title IX program and women’s soccer was valued from not only the coaches’ perspective, but from the athletic department and the student body. The locker room, practice fields, game field, training room and weight room were all relatively new and the quality which was provided to us as women’s soccer made you feel that this was a top-notch program. One of the biggest factors in my decision to attend Charlotte was the team. On my visit, several current players were really nice and made an effort to get to know me, show me around and let me meet non-soccer players. They gave me a holistic view of life as a collegiate athlete at Charlotte. They cared about me and were honest about the pros and cons of the school and program. Robbie Church’s vision for what this team could be laid the foundation for what it is today and I wanted to be part of a program that was competitive, would work hard and achieve its goals.
2. How did you see yourself grow as a soccer player and as a person during your collegiate career?
Four years is a long time when you add up all of the hours of practice, playing, studying and traveling. The fact that we were in Conference USA meant that we flew to most of our games and spent a lot of time traveling, and in turn, had to miss a fair amount of class. I learned to manage my schedule, to train and study effectively and to enjoy the little moments of down time. I learned to value my teammates and their strengths and weaknesses on and off the field. I also learned that there is so much more than soccer and four years in college, and while it was a huge part of my life, it was not my life. I learned that maintaining my identity apart from my performance on the field was not only very difficult but necessary. There was always going to be someone faster, stronger and better -- someone who would break your records at some point, and to put hope and purpose solely in those things would always leave me feeling empty. So, I learned to really enjoy the game and have fun playing, but I learned that it was not an end in itself.
3. What are some of your fondest memories of playing soccer with the 49ers?
-- My first collegiate start as a freshman – though I have no clue who we played [Sept. 1, 1999 vs. Elon] but I remember seeing my name on the big screen (scoreboard) thinking, “Holy Cow, this is real.”
-- Our senior season being ranked No. 9 in the nation with a record of 16-2-2
-- Beating Duke on Senior Day at home
-- Traveling all over the country with the same 23 people and laughing on a regular basis!
-- Judy Rose, Kim Whitestone and the athletic department. It is rare that the Athletic Director would know players by name and know their families; however, Judy Rose knew us. It not only allowed us to see how women’s soccer fit in the larger scope of Charlotte athletics, but it made us (me) feel valued as an individual player. As a women’s soccer player, I did not feel like an after-thought, but just the opposite; it felt that we were priority, and we were!
-- I loved the other three players that came in with me and stuck it out with me all four years: Jennie (Leeder) Clark, Mikel (Casey) Bass, Shannon (Roberto) Brown. While time with these women now is few and far between, a friendship was built that extended far beyond the pitch and four years in college.
4. How often do you play soccer these days?
I play with my newborn daughter every day on her play mat, does that count? Honestly, I haven’t played in a while due to life circumstances, working full-time, living overseas.
5. Where are you currently living (city, state)?
Fort Benning, Ga. My husband is in the military so we have the privilege of moving quite frequently.
6. What is your current occupation?
Physical therapist; however, due to moving constantly because my husband is in the military, and having an 8 week old daughter, I am currently not working as a PT but am enjoying being a full-time mom.
7. Do you have any family (husband/kids/pets)?
8. What advice would you offer to a current 49ers women’s soccer player?
My husband and I just celebrated our third wedding anniversary and we have an eight-week old daughter, Margaret Anne.
-- Have fun playing, enjoy the little and big moments.
-- ALWAYS celebrate a victory.
-- There will always be life after college, and there will always be life after soccer, so enjoy playing but remain well-balanced.
-- Humility goes a long way.
-- Work hard because it is the right thing to do, short-cuts will eventually catch up to you.