ASHEVILLE, N.C. (June 21, 2019) – Head to any Asheville City women’s soccer game and you’ll notice that #17, Sarah Jacobs, a second-year midfielder for the Blues, seldom leaves the field. It’s true during the game and it’s true for the larger arc of her career. The former Clemson standout was a four-year letter winner for the Tigers and the team’s MVP in 2010. Jacobs is a Greenville, S.C, native and continues to remain active as a player, although her primary vocation has switched to that of head coach of Anderson University (S.C.)’s women’s soccer team.
Fieldhouse spoke with Jacobs about the integration of coaching and playing, returning to Asheville for a second season, and the World Cup’s impact on her day-to-day. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
Fieldhouse: How did you hear about Asheville City?
Jacobs: I was at a recruiting event and I ran into Lydia (Vandenbergh – the head coach at Warren Wilson College and a player-owner for ACSC) and we had played together several years ago for a W-league team in Greenville called the Carolina Elite Cobras. She mentioned it to me and said, ‘Hey, we’re starting a team up in Asheville this summer, if you’re interested.’ At that point, I was just an assistant at Anderson and didn’t know what I was going to do next – if I was going to try to play again or not.
Then I became the head coach at Anderson and really wanted to keep playing at some level and in some way. So I reached out to her and went to one of the tryouts and it was all good from there.
Fieldhouse: It must time out well with your college semester ending in the spring.
Jacobs: It’s perfect because our girls aren’t really on campus; no one is really around and it’s pretty quiet in the summers. It’s a good time to have some time to myself and to use it to play soccer. It’s been helpful from a coaching standpoint to learn in a different environment as well.
Fieldhouse: I can picture the benefit when coaching to still playing. What have you seen?
Jacobs: I think it immediately gives you some credibility and the girls buy in a bit more if you can still play on the field. I think it’s also nice to be able to demonstrate exactly what you want done, whether it’s hitting a long ball or chip or how you want to take your first touch and open up on the field.
I’m really able to coach at a different level when I play with a team. I’m able to see things a lot differently and I’m able to direct them on things positionally that it’s a little bit harder to see on the sideline. So I think it’s super helpful.
Fieldhouse: What made you decide to return to Asheville this year?
Jacobs: I always had intentions of coming back as long as nothing changed on my end. I really enjoy being in Asheville and the organization has been great and the crowd support and fans have just been amazing.
It’s incredible. I really cannot believe how much Asheville gets behind the soccer teams and just the environment that they create has probably been the coolest place that I’ve played, and I’ve played in a lot of places. So, really in my mind, I was planning on playing again and nothing changed so we just confirmed things and were good to go.
Fieldhouse: You tend to be in the game most of the time, even at midfield, for the games I’ve seen.
Jacobs: I have gotten a lot of playing time in the games I’ve been available for and I think I do have a pretty good fitness base. I work out all year and I do a lot of running and cross-fit in the offseason, so that helps keep me in shape, along with playing with my team and sometimes I’ll play in the adult rec leagues around Greenville.
I love being out on the field and I feel like I’m able to organize and direct things a lot while I’m out there. I feel like I do a little bit of coaching while I play. That’s always nice. I’ve played a little bit more of a defensive/holding midfielder role this year as opposed to last year where I played a bit more of an attacking role. Especially with Lydia being out this year, I stepped into that piece of things a little more.
It’s still been really fun; some of the results have been disappointing but I still love being out there.
Fieldhouse: What’s the difference between this year and last year in the WPSL that you’ve seen? It seems like it’s improved in its level of competitiveness.
Jacobs: The WPSL has a lot of teams, so there can be a wide range in ability and how they’re structured and how much support they get both behind the scenes and from the fans. This year I would say our conference (Carolinas Conference), in particular, has been much more competitive.
They took our conference and broke it into two divisions (North/South) which I think is good. Our games are much more competitive. Even though we’ve lost some it’s more enjoyable to play competitive games than just smash teams.
Another big thing has been the addition of the Charlotte Eagles to our conference because they’ve not been in the WPSL for the last couple of years. They decided to join again this year and have a super-strong team. So that has also raised the level. Even on the other side of the conference (the North Division), those teams look like they have stepped it up and improved from last year.
Fieldhouse: You mentioned getting in training time with the NC Courage (of the NWSL, the highest level women’s pro circuit in the US). Talk about how that happened.
Jacobs: I just reached out to them a couple of weeks ago, because they lost a lot of players to the World Cup. They have eight gone – seven are playing and one is broadcasting. I had done a similar thing with the Orlando Pride back when the Olympics were going on. They then invited me to come train with them for the next couple of weeks and continuing playing games for Asheville, which has been really good.
The training and environment here have just been incredible. It’s a whole other pace and physicality and technicality. The players are really good and it’s been a good experience for me to continue training at that level.
I don’t know that it will actually lead to anything because those players will soon be coming back and there aren’t many rosters spots and there isn’t much of a need for additional players at that point, but you never know. Right now, I’m just trying to enjoy it for the training environment and learn from their coaching staff and the experience as a whole.
Fieldhouse: Beyond training with NC Courage, do you notice anything different or unique as a player while the Women’s World Cup is going on?
Jacobs: The World Cup is great and I think it’s really good exposure for women’s soccer and women’s athletics in general. It’s cool to see celebrities Tweeting about it and things like that.
I know that we watch a lot of games together as a team, both in Asheville and here at the Courage. The coaches and players are always talking about it. We’re often group texting about certain calls or certain goals and it just helps us stay connected when we’re not together at practice.
It’s been an interesting World Cup so far with some surprise teams. It’s good from a coaching perspective, too, to sit back and analyze the game a little bit and try and observe what the other teams are doing, and how you would counteract that and try to use it as a learning experience as well.
Fieldhouse: What’s the goal for the final three games of the season for Asheville City? Obviously, it’s always to win, but anything specific beyond that?
Jacobs: We just want to see some results. We’ve gone three games with losses, and so we want to prove to ourselves that we can get those results and those wins and we want to have fun doing it as well.
We’re connecting more as a team as we’re playing. We’re working defensively on pressing together and offensively, we’re trying to build a bit more through the midfield and connect with our forwards. We really want to make the most of these last few games and get some results.
The Blues return to Memorial Stadium along with the men’s side on Tuesday night as the two teams host a doubleheader beginning at 6:00 p.m. The women’s side faces the Charlotte Eages.