Pino surprises with strong return to Merrimack soccer
Gabe Mejail was not sure what to expect from Jenn Pino this season.
The second-leading scorer on the Merrimack College women’s soccer team last fall, despite being hampered by injuries, Pino underwent simultaneous surgeries in May to relieve compartment syndrome in both of her calves.
“I expected her to be like this at the end of the season,’’ said Mejail, the Warriors’ 28-year head coach who won his 400th career game earlier this month.
“She couldn’t do much in preseason. So we were wondering how long it would take her. But there’s that extra gear that she has when the games come along. She obviously can’t push herself for 45 minutes, but for those 10 or 15 minutes, and every game she can up it a little more, it is nice to have her there.’’
Pino is again the second-leading scorer for the Warriors (8-0), ranked 17th nationally in Division 2 entering last night’s match against Assumption.
The 5-foot-2 junior from North Andover has appeared in every game, starting two, scoring four goals on just eight shots, with one assist for nine points.
And thus far, she has even surprised herself.
“I just didn’t think I was going to be this in shape and 100 percent, where I’m at now,’’ she said. “I thought it would take me a while to get into the season. But I think the position I’m at right now is perfect for what I have to do and what my job is. I’m really enjoying where I’m playing. So, that’s helped me a lot, too.’’
She is playing her third position in as many years.
As a freshman, when she earned Northeast-10 rookie team honors, she played outside midfield. Last year, she moved to forward.
While her athleticism was obvious as a freshman, Pino’s natural speed was limited last year because of her injuries. The silver lining was that it allowed her to develop her field intelligence.
“She sees things because she’s had to adapt, and she has adapted very well,’’ Mejail said.
This year, though her time is still limited as she recovers from her surgeries, she is directing the offense as a link-midfielder, a position that maximizes her abilities.
“We weren’t even sure if she could play the position,’’ said the coach. “Now she’s staying there. That’s her position. Oh my goodness, it’s like we invented it for her, but she molded herself to the position.
“You need to have a special person to play that position. You need to be mobile and smart. You organize things. You need to direct people. You need to support the offense, and you need to make runs as a third forward. You’re really not a forward. You’re really not a midfielder. You’re a rover.’’
And that is fine with Pino.
“Wherever they need me, I’ll go,’’ she said. “Or wherever they trust me on the field, I don’t mind changing it up. Each position has a different job and I like the competitive edge on that part.’’
Pino is one of the few two-sport varsity athletes at Merrimack. She arrived as a lacrosse recruit. Mejail credits lacrosse coach Corinne Baker with letting Pino play both sports.
“You want a happy kid,’’ said Mejail, the most successful coach in Division 2 women’s soccer history. “It’s better to have her play two sports than not be here.’’
Which was part of the reason Pino chose Merrimack. “I wanted to be close to home,’’ Pino said. “It was one of the schools that had my major, sports management. And I was in contact with the soccer and the lacrosse coach. So that made my decision easier, too.’’
As she returns to full health, Pino has goals for herself and the team.
“Our team goal is definitely to be Northeast-10 champion,’’ she said. “And one of my goals for our team is to have an undefeated season. So far, right now it’s going well. And individual goal, probably to be up there on the scoring list, maybe top three most points on our team. I want to help our team as much as I can.’’
Reach Maureen Mullen at email@example.com.