FOLLOWING THE PASSION

Aniela Jensen

This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

There is no greater universal language in this world than sports.

Regardless of distance, it’s one of the few things that ties us all together.

As a young girl, New Zealander Aniela Jensen would have never predicted she’d be living in California and playing Division I soccer for University of the Pacific.

But then again, isn’t that the beauty of sports — that someone could just pick everything up and fly across land and water with nothing but luggage and a dream of attending school and playing soccer in the United States?

“I did a few years of high school on the east coast of America,” said Jensen.

“From there, I decided I loved living in America, and I wanted to go to college in America. One reason why I chose Pacific was because of the location. I’d never been to California or the West Coast, and it just looked amazing. The other reason was based on the people just being so amazing. The team reached out to me, and the coaches were very nice and kind. It just felt like a family before I even got there.”

A backpack and a dream

The mere thought of moving to a completely different country would be terrifying for most adults, much less a teenager still in grade school.

Most would think the transition would have been really difficult for Jensen, who left her family back home in New Zealand to embark on the journey alone.

Surprisingly, however, moving to the United States was much easier than she expected it to be.

In fact, the hardest transition she’s made since coming to America was figuring out her time management skills in college.

“I thought I was going to miss my family in New Zealand more, but I was too distracted by the freedom and fun of living with my friends that I didn’t even have time to think about my life back home. So honestly, it was an easier transition than I thought,” Jensen said.

“But the transition from high school to college — not so much. In high school, they’d help you plan out every step of when you’re studying or when you’d be playing a sport. We’d have specific study periods, too.”

“In college, it’s all up to you. You’re all by yourself. If you don’t manage your time correctly, then that’s on you. So that’s one of the things I found the hardest was managing my time and not having anyone tell me exactly what to do and when to do it.”

Jensen obviously figured it out, and her collegiate soccer career took flight immediately. In 2021, she became the first University of the Pacific freshman to earn All-WCC honors since 2017.

So, it’s no surprise there were bigger expectations for her heading into her sophomore season with a year of experience under her belt.

But sadly, things didn’t turn out the way she had hoped due to reasons completely out of her control.

“It definitely wasn’t as good as my freshman year. I was out for most of the season due to different illnesses,” said Jensen.

“So that was a bit of a bummer. But things felt good when I was actually out there. I knew everyone on the team more, and I knew how everyone played. I felt like everyone was more comfortable with each other, and our confidence grew because of it.”

I did a few years of high school on the east coast of America. From there, I decided I loved living in America, and I wanted to go to college in America. One reason why I chose Pacific was because of the location. I'd never been to California or the West Coast, and it just looked amazing.

Eyeing a bounce-back season

The easy thing to do would have been tuning out portions of the season out of mere frustration, but Jensen used it as a teaching tool in hopes of coming back even stronger next season.

It helps to be a part of such a close-knit group, but as a now-junior, she is already preparing to take the onus on herself to serve in more of a leadership role.

That’s one responsibility that comes with the territory of being one of the older players on the team. Admittedly, it’s one of the few things she has spent most of her life struggling to overcome as an athlete.

Could the 2023 season be different?

There’s a lot of confidence right now that the team will be able to make a run in the conference, and Jensen knows a huge part of that success will be the ability of her and others to lead by example.

“Actually, being a leader on the field is definitely one of my goals up there. It’s something I’ve struggled with most of my life. I don’t know, it’s just not in my personality to be a leader. So that’s one thing I’ve been trying to focus on more and work towards,” Jensen said.

“I think, team-wise, we want to be up there in the conference and definitely finish top three. Seeing all of the recruits coming in for next year, combining with the team we already have, I think it’s very doable.”

Chasing a childhood dream

Regardless of what happens, Jensen will always look back on her journey with pride. How many people get to travel across the globe to get a high-level education while also competing in the sport they love more than anything?

And she gets to do it as a Division I athlete.

Jensen isn’t just representing herself at University of the Pacific. She’s representing the country of New Zealand and everyone that contributed to her success along the way.

“I think it’s just a relief that not only my hard work, but the work that my parents put in, along with my sister and my entire community — whether it was driving me to games, coaching me up or just encouraging me — helped me get to where I am today. It’s so nice knowing all of that hard work we’ve put in has come to this,” said Jensen.

Don’t expect that hard work to be slowing down anytime soon with Jensen hoping to play full-time professionally for the New Zealand national team.

She has already competed for them a few times, including an appearance in the FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Traveling the world and forming lifelong bonds with teammates is something she’s eyeing right now. But make no mistake, there isn’t a second she takes for granted because there are no guarantees her soccer journey will extend beyond that.

Nothing else matters more than the present.

“The people that I’ve met and the friends that I’ve made from the team is what I cherish most in my time here,” said Jensen. “I think the lifelong friendships that are made on this team is something you don’t often see at colleges. This place is different. The team is very bonded, and I don’t see that changing — not now, not ever.”