It took years of hard work for the Clearwater Central Catholic standout to overcome her weaknesses on the field.
By LAURA LEE
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2003
CLEARWATER -- It is automatic. Jessica Hallgren always goes right.
In attempting one of the biggest penalty kicks of her career in the Class A state semifinal against Jacksonville Bolles, the last thing she wanted to do was panic and chunk it. The last thing she wanted to do was think.
Hallgren made her play, and the Bolles goalie made hers, stretching her arms left, blocking the shot.
"I realized she made a great save and you can't stop that from happening," said Hallgren, who laid out on the field after the game, "crushed."
But after four attempts at a state title, Hallgren realized she doesn't need a ring to remember the kind of career she had at Clearwater Central Catholic. And this season in particular was one in which she became a more complete player.
Hallgren is known most for her speed and athleticism, but she has been hounded by almost every coach she has ever had to improve her ball skills. "She could solve all the problems on the field just running by everybody and being more athletic than them," her father, Scott Hallgren, said.
She knew a time would come when speed wouldn't always be an advantage, especially next year at the University of Florida.
"I can't just kick the ball and outrun everybody," said Hallgren, 18. "You're playing with the best now. On some level I have to figure out a way to be better than a 22-year-old. I'm starting over."
The past two years, Hallgren committed herself to strengthening her ball skills. She worked with her brother, Jeff, a junior at CCC who has amazing skills by Hallgren's standards. She has played soccer year-round on club teams and at age 16 trained with the Tampa Bay Extreme, a minor-league women's team.
"This year I finally realized I was comfortable in every situation," Hallgren said.
"The best thing I contributed: In any situation I could make sure everything was okay."
A sign of her success is that she isn't all goals. This season she had 29 goals and 23 assists, giving her 105 goals and 116 assists for her career.
"I've never felt like I was the best out there," Hallgren said. "The teams I've played on, they've always set me up to be great."
Hallgren got a chance to redeem herself in the Senior All-Star Challenge. With the game tied 1-1 at the end of regulation, Hallgren hesitantly stepped up to take a shot in the shootout. She sprinted in from 35 yards and scored, altering her previously unpleasant penalty kick experience. But this time, she cut left.