Jocelyn Herrema got one quick peek at the penalty box before she scored the winning goal on Kansas’ senior night.
By her next goalward glance, she had turned a Kansas State defender, launched a grass-grazing shot into the far corner of the K-State net, and turned to run toward fellow-forward Lexi Watts to celebrate.
The instinctual strike and celebration were a product of a season's worth of work, growth and tactical understanding, all of it leading to that huge moment in her development.
“Before, that (goal) might not have happened,” Herrema told R1S1 Sports, “because I didn't understand where to be on the field. I was behind (Watts) and I was able to get to the ball, turn the girl and then have a great shot.”
The goal, the first of Herrema’s career with the Jayhawks, turned out to be the game-winner in the Jayhawks’ final match and it came as a relief for her and her teammates after a disappointing finish to the season.
The rookie forward from Caledonia, Michigan said scoring the winning goal on senior night and in former KU coach Mark Francis’ final match in Lawrence "means a lot."
"Part of the reason why I came to KU was to play for coach Francis,” she said. “So it was nice to finish the season with a bang” for Francis and the graduating seniors.
In a surprise to herself, Herrema “became really close” to a number of the seniors, making the goal that much more special for her.
Seniors Hallie Klanke and Shira Elinav took Herrema aside after the match to tell her “how proud they were” and that she deserves the recognition and the goal for the work she put in over the season.
For two veterans, including a fellow-striker in Klanke, to give Herrema her flowers meant a lot to the KU freshman, who now faces an offseason without program stalwarts and its longtime steward in Francis.
Herrema was unable to meet some of her goals for the year, including to start a match, but the goal, weekly award and recognition all gave her a “confidence boost,” and along with it, the freedom to have expectations for next season.
Big 12 competition "is for me," she now knows. "I can compete at this level," she added.
With turnover coming across the Jayhawks starting 11 and in the head coach's office this offseason, Herrema wants to take the security that comes with her late-season success to help settle the team next year.
She plans to go “out of my way to hang out with the girls and get close with them.”
With 2023's early-season struggles still on her mind, Herrema wants to focus on team building as a way to improve the Jayhawks’ on-field product.
As a freshman, she says, “You're not expected to, you know, be like, the best on the team or anything like that. I made a lot of mistakes when I first came here, but I think once you understand that making mistakes is OK, you learn from them.”
On the field against K-State, Herrema says she wasn’t thinking about what to do or where to be, she was acting off of instinct.
Collecting the ball, turning and shooting was “natural,” she added, but only after a season of messing up, learning and earning the support of her teammates.
She hopes to earn more playing time in the coming years, and after a strong finish to her season, Herrema believes she is in a good position to do so. However, as long as she can help her young teammates just as the veterans helped her, she knows she will be giving the team all she has.
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