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From zero sports to two: McLean back in action at Chaminade

20220111-bc-mclean

Jenna McLean, center, got to take the field for Chaminade University in 2021, over three years after her time at CSUB was derailed by an ACL injury. She still has a sixth season of eligibility left.

Jenna McLean’s equalizer for the Chaminade Silverswords on Feb. 21 was anything but conventional. Her high cross into the box — take two after an unsuccessful corner kick — curled past her teammates, kept spinning and somehow arced over the right hand of the backpedaling Hawai’i Pacific goalkeeper.

It was the culmination of McLean’s own meandering path back to college soccer, after a stint at Cal State Bakersfield derailed by an ACL injury. Then came a transfer and a global pandemic. Her triumphant goal, three and a half years after her injury, occurred in Chaminade’s return to action, in front of no fans, in their lone win in four games that spring.

McLean’s first points on the basketball court for Chaminade last Saturday against Biola — six years after she had to give up the sport in favor of soccer — were similarly unlikely, the product of cooperation between the Silverswords’ coaches to allow players to cross over between sports.

“To watch her bounce back and find a passion for something that she’s had in the past, and to realize one of her dreams, which was to play in college?” Deidra Ducheane, McLean’s former club basketball coach, asked rhetorically. “I mean, that’s the ultimate story right there.”

Growing up in Washington state, McLean was committed to the two-sport lifestyle. "My mom was soccer, and then my dad was basketball — they both coached me when I was little," she said.

While attending Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish, Wash., she established herself as a competitive player in both. But as AAU and club tournaments mounted, the prospect of continuing as a multisport athlete looked less and less realistic.

“It was always a side dream of mine to play both,” McLean said, “but I didn’t really get a lot of people saying that it was possible.”

Ducheane, now the sole owner of the Washington Swarm club team, said multisport participation “allows athletes to become multifaceted not only on the field but in regular arenas — work, college, life.”

But Ducheane also wanted more of McLean’s time. Most athletes choose one sport their freshman year; McLean waited until she was a junior. Ducheane respected McLean’s soccer ability, so was upfront and told McLean’s parents she didn’t expect her to progress to the elite level in basketball.

“I know that she’s super competitive,” Ducheane said, “so I didn’t think she would be willing to settle for that.”

And so McLean focused on soccer, earning a spot in CSUB’s 2017 class for her efforts. Then-coach Gary Curneen called her “a midfielder with the ability to find a pass and dictate the speed of a game.”

She only got about half a game. After playing 50 minutes across three appearances, she suffered an ACL injury that sidelined her for the next two years and subjected her to a tedious rehabilitation process featuring two surgeries.

Her main way to aid the Roadrunners was by providing moral support on the sideline, a role she embraced.

“You want to be able to contribute, because you care about everyone, you want to be able to help,” McLean said.

In the meantime, she got plenty of reciprocal encouragement from her teammates and coaches. But when she finally got her brace off junior year, she wasn’t the same.

“I wasn’t a part of the team as much as I wanted to be,” she said, “just because I was a lot slower and I wasn’t as good as I previously was.”

Searching for a place to be “more relied upon,” and supported by a CSUB staff that just as enthusiastically wanted her to get back on the field, McLean turned to Division II. By the middle of her junior year, she was in Honolulu and ready to compete at Chaminade University at the start of 2020.

For various epidemiological reasons, that was not to be. But Chaminade did get to practice in the summer before a COVID-shortened spring schedule.

“I think it was a blessing in disguise because I got another chance to really recover,” McLean said. “I went from not playing a lot at Bakersfield to playing more here at Chaminade, and that transition too quickly can be detrimental to your recovery.”

Chaminade coach Michelle Richardson was impressed by the “drive and grit” McLean displayed after her injury.

“That changes the way that you look at playing,” Richardson said. “It goes from being something you have to do to something you get to do … it’s also something you’ve missed so much that you’re willing to do anything to stay on the field.”

In her first game at Chaminade, McLean played 57 minutes, more than her entire three-year CSUB career, and scored in the 2-1 victory, “the icing on the cake.”

“It was just a really fun opportunity and reminded me how much I love soccer and how it can bring people together,” she said.

After playing twice in the spring, McLean returned last fall to appear in 12 games, starting four. She’ll be back this fall, thanks to her extra eligibility due to COVID-19, and get another chance to find the net.

The soccer net, specifically.

A Silverswords teammate of McLean’s had previously played both soccer and basketball. McLean was inspired to seize this opportunity as well, and successfully tried out for coach Arthur King’s basketball team. This crossover makes plenty of sense for Richardson and King.

“Soccer players are usually gritty, and they’re fit and strong, so they use those to their advantage when they go into basketball,” Richardson said, “and basketball benefits soccer players because it works on agility and quick movements and quick cutting, so it becomes symbiotic.”

McLean had a quick turnaround, with just four days between the soccer finale and basketball opener. (“All my friends on the soccer team were getting to sleep in,” she said.) But she’s settling back into her long-dormant "basketball mode," and posted her first points against Biola Saturday, with two months of play remaining.

When Ducheane heard McLean was returning to basketball, too, she immediately wanted to see her play.

“The ability to get back onto the court, it’s an uphill battle, but Jenna has the resolve to do it,” Ducheane said.

Reporter Henry Greenstein can be reached at 661-395-7374. Follow him on Twitter: @HenryGreenstein.