Following in line with Arbor’s rich tradition, Longhurst emerging as its next top prospect

Posted: October 16, 2013 in Preps
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Shadow1 208By W.G. Ramirez

It’s never easy for an underclassman to fit into a varsity-level program that has rich tradition and high expectations annually.

So imagine the feeling Arbor View’s Jessica Longhurst had last year as a sophomore in the state championship game, when Aggies coach Jay Howard asked her to step up as one of the team’s penalty-kick kickers.

You’d never imagine she was nervous when her shot was the one that sealed the victory over Green Valley, and handed the Aggies their second state championship in three years.

“She’s a quiet girl, and whatever you say she just says yes,” Howard said. “We had four of our five kickers set … and she stepped up for us in that situation.”

And while she was a vital part of the Aggies’ state title run, Longhurst’s demeanor blended her into the background of a senior-laden group of players whose names were well-known throughout Southern Nevada.

This year, however, there’s no hiding her talent. Everyone knows about Jessica Longhurst.

“To say the good coaches know, and look, who to watch out for, she’s definitely a target; she’s on their radar,” Arbor View assistant coach Melanie Johnston said.

Johnston, who is the head JV coach as well, said Arbor View has gone through many different styles of team-personalities, from having several vocal leaders last season to having one player take command as the team leader in prior years. And because Longhurst has been exposed to the program since her freshman year, she’s been able to absorb everything Howard and Johnston have tried to instill, and what the teams have been like with some of the top players in the Sunset Region.

“She came in as a leader that freshman year, and wasn’t on varsity; but that (JV) team was mature, collected – they were just phenomenal,” Johnston said. “They put out a varsity-level performance right off. She got to be a leader before moving up to varsity, and then having to fit in the mix with the older girls and kind of find her position.

“Jessica has been one of the players that her work ethic sets her apart from a lot of players. She’s just never taken time off or trying to cut corners. She’s always expecting the best of herself, she’s very coachable, she’s willing to try things and get outside of her comfort zone.”

Getting out of her comfort zone is an understatement this year, as she’s moved from defender to midfield.Shadow1 677

“It took hard work and a lot of confidence,” Longhurst said. “I really liked playing sweeper; I already had a lot of confidence there. (Changing position) has been really hard, just because I’ve always been a defender; I’ve never been an offensive player. I’ve never had to dribble or take the ball up. I’m still transitioning.”

Howard said the move was out of need this season, once the team graduated Amberly Halstead, who is now a freshman and playing at Northwest College in Wyoming. Halstead left a huge gap on the line, but Howard said Longhurst’s transition has come natural for her because of her overall ability to take command on the field, not to mention her work ethic.

Halstead agreed wholeheartedly.

“That’s what good players do, they handle the situations they get put into,” she said. “They can work with change. She’s young, but she’s smart enough to handle that stuff.”

The former all-Southern Nevada star for the Aggies said there were times last year that Longhurst’s work ethic inspired many of the upperclassmen, including her.

“She motivated me because I never wanted to get outworked, and Jessica never stops working hard,” Halstead said. “On days where it seems everyone else is having an off day, Jessica’s a hard worker and she’s a team player, so she keeps everyone focused on working hard.”

Said Longhurst: “When you work hard, I think the older girls give you respect.”

Now, with the shoe on the other foot, it’s Longhurst who proudly walks the halls at Arbor View with a letterman’s jacket and a state ring and is the upperclassman the younger girls want respect from.

“She’s one of those kids that her character, people want to play for her, they want to play with her,” Johnston said. “I think people depend on her. She hasn’t spent a lot of time in the papers as a defender. You don’t always get to recognize your defenders because stats don’t show. Her being a little bit more central and more heavily involved in the attack is probably gonna help her turn with that, and being seen a little more offensively than being seen as just a defensive player.”

Longhurst can’t receive any offers until next summer, but she’s generated plenty of interest from college coaches, thanks to her club soccer career. And both Howard and Johnston believe she is well on her way to joining an impressive list of Division I players who have graduated from Arbor View.

“What Jessica brings on the field is she never stops, she plays so hard that that makes her stand out,” Howard said. “Even when Jess is tired, she’s running and trying. And she’s versatile too … I would want her cause I could put her in a lot of different spots and be successful.”

Longhurst says she’s taking it step-by-step, game-by-game this season, while hoping to attain one goal at a time leading up to the postseason. She knows college offers will come, and she acknowledges her team has the potential to vie for a state title. But she also admits the second she allows herself – or her teammates – to think about back-to-back championships, is when focusing on the task at hand will be lost.

“Every game is a state game, you have to work hard to get there,” she said. “You never know what the results could be, so I try not to think about it … you just can’t think like that.”

Good philosophy for a girl who less than a year ago was unassuming and far from the headlines.

But when the defending state champions step on the field in the postseason this year, there’s no doubt everyone will know about Arbor View’s Jessica Longhurst.

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