In most aspects, Jess Leon’s life the past nine months has been no different than any other high school student navigating the tides of change brought on by the pandemic.
Because Leon is an outstanding athlete, the Staples junior, like her peers that are a year older, has had the additional challenge of making the major life decision of deciding where she will attend college virtually.
And because Leon is talented enough to be sought by coaches in two sports, well…
“It was a little overwhelming, especially with online school,” Leon said. “There have been a lot of changes going on at once.”
Recruited by top northeast academic schools both in field hockey and lacrosse, Leon announced last week that after she graduates next year she will play field hockey at Bucknell.
“I think I always in the back of my mind wanted field hockey, but I was keeping my options open because what if field hockey doesn’t work,” Leon said. “I love lacrosse. Field hockey is my passion.”
Leon has been a starter for the Wreckers’ field hockey program since midway through her freshman season. This year the midfielder was named to the All-Region team after helping to lead Staples to an 8-1 record. The one loss was in the final game, to Ridgefield for the Central Region title.
“I was happy with the whole team,” Leon said. “We lost a lot of seniors so it was really impressive how well we did. It was disappointing to lose but we played hard. It just didn’t go our way.”
The Wreckers came into the season having won four straight state titles and as the defending league co-champion.
Leon said recruiting added to a busy schedule. It started with field hockey on June 15, and she was contacted right away by several schools, mostly from the Patriot League, including Bucknell.
“When I first started getting recruited I was looking everywhere because I literally had no idea,” Leon said. “Once I got down to it I was looking at Patriot League schools.”
Lacrosse coaches could start making contact on Sept. 1, and Leon again found herself a hot commodity.
“Lacrosse it was more Ivys, which was crazy,” Leon said. “Field hockey started earlier so I was already so into field hockey that I never really dove into lacrosse recruiting, which was kind of sad.”
Leon said she spent this fall talking to about 10 college coaches, emailing with additional others, and keeping all updated with her grades and, in field hockey, her most current highlights.
“For me it was not too difficult because I’ve never gone through recruiting any other way,” said Leon, who made no on-campus visits. “It wasn’t that difficult but it was a lot of being on your phone. I had to send emails every single day, which was kind of a pain. It was a lot. A lot of it was during field hockey season and with the Covid era we have the film you can send to coaches. I had to keep so many people updated on my life. And over the phone, not being able to talk to them in person.”
Leon said the rapport she developed with Bucknell coach Jeremy Cook finalized her decision.
“They reached out the morning June 15,” Leon said. “We would catch up every couple weeks and then they saw film and started talking to me about my interests. I talked to some players and that sealed the deal for me.”
The unconventional recruiting process followed an unconventional field hockey season.
“I think it ended up being a very positive experience,” Leon said. “At the beginning it was very hard because the start of the season got pushed back so there was training and running every single day and not even picking up our sticks. It was hard physically and emotionally because we wanted to play. Once the season started it felt pretty normal. We missed playing Darien and New Canaan. That was hard.”
Leon said in retrospect while lacrosse was an option, it was always likely she would end making field hockey part of her long-term plan.
“I started lacrosse at a young age but I was never really, really into it so I never got my stick skills as good,” she said. “In field hockey I had the stick skills and once I got that down I knew the game better. When I’m playing the sport I enjoy it more. My skillset is more made for field hockey.”