Family focus: Jennifer Gassman’s support system
Jennifer Gassman only exists on a birth certificate and driver’s license — the full name is merely a formality.
To her family, friends, teammates and coaches, Gassman is just Bea, a name she’s had almost since birth.
“When I was born, I was actually a really fat baby,” Gassman said, laughing. “My mom used to call me bean or jellybean, and my older sister, Kelly, couldn’t say it, so she said Bea, and it just stuck.”
But the thin, 5-foot-5 junior midfielder for the Central Michigan women’s soccer team is anything but chunky these days, looking more like a string bean than a jellybean when she sprints down the pitch.
Soccer has been part of Gassman’s life since she was four years old. With a seemingly endless supply of energy, her parents knew she needed an active hobby.
“She just had so much (energy),” her father, Mike, said. “We had to get her out and doing something, otherwise she’d be tearing up our house.”
Although she tried other sports, soccer was the one Bea loved and shined at.
Gassman played high school soccer at Carmel High School in Carmel, Ind. and earned first-team all-state honors in 2009. She was named first-team all-district and all-county by the Indianapolis Star in 2008 and 2009.
Moving to the next level and playing college soccer wasn’t even on Gassman’s radar until her father brought up the possibility.
“My first year of high school, my dad was talking to me, and he said, ‘We’ve got to start thinking about college soccer. I mean, that is, if you want to play college soccer. It’s all up to you; no pressure,’” Gassman said. “It was just really funny, because he was obviously looking into it before I was. I had never thought of it before that.”
Deciding to come to CMU was really based on the recruitment process, Gassman said
“Other schools wanted me, but (CMU) showed a much bigger interest,” Gassman said. “Plus, it’s far enough away from home where my parents can’t come visit all the time but close enough that they can come some, because I miss them a lot.”
For Gassman, her parents, five siblings, grandparents and numerous cousins have always been a source of constant support, encouragement and love. Each season, her parents, paternal grandparents and 12-year-old brother Matt make the four-hour drive to attend at least two or three game weekends in Mount Pleasant.
Despite the age difference, Gassman said Matt is her best friend, even though she doesn’t often let him in on that knowledge.
“She never tells me that,” Matt said. “…I just like to come as often as I can to her games. I love soccer, and I actually want to play, too. It’s awesome to come and watch Bea play.”
Over the years, there are some things Gassman has come to notice about the habits of her biggest fans on game days.
“My mom is funny. I know she loves me the same (as my dad), but no matter what game it is, she’ll show up at halftime. She is always late,” Gassman said. “And my dad, I can always hear him. If I’m having a bad game by even one touch, I know it because he tells me. He’s not afraid to yell at me.”
As the regular season winds down and with MAC tournament play around the corner, Gassman’s father hasn’t had much to yell about from the bleachers.
Gassman leads the team in goals with four this season, including game-winners against Kent State and Akron.
Since arriving at CMU three years ago, Gassman said her mental strength has changed.
“When I came as a freshman, I was extremely mentally weak. Neil (Stafford, head coach) always says he’s going to push to the edge of a cliff, then push you more and then bring you back up,” Gassman said. “Well, he pushed me, and he let me fall a long, long way, but he eventually brought me back up.”
The Chippewas are ready to vie for their third MAC championship in four years when the MAC tournament begins Sunday.
Gassman was able to taste both the sweet taste of victory in the 2010 title win and also the bitter poison of defeat when CMU lost to Western Michigan in the semifinals in 2011.
Losing last year was a huge hit to her team, Gassman said.
“I can’t describe the emotions, because it sits with you … it stills sits with me today,” she said. “We worked so hard, and one thing goes wrong, and we lose our season. This year, we are out for vengeance a little, even though we’ve just been taking it one game at a time. Ultimately, we want that title.”
Whether it’s prepping for a MAC tournament or regular season game, Gassman always manages to keep her family and important people close and priorities straight with her pregame rituals.
Before each game, she writes her father’s initials on her one wrist, along with the name of her high school coach who died after a battle with cancer at the end of Gassman’s senior year.
“He was extremely special to me. He loved me in high school, and I loved him,” Gassman said. “Whenever I came off the field, he would tell me great job, and he would tell me whenever my attitude got out of check.”
On her other wrist, she writes “TWAG,” which stands for together we are gold.
Togetherness and teamwork are things Gassman said she and her teammates stress for their success.
“You can’t be an individual in soccer. You can’t take on 11 other players by yourself,” Gassman said. “It’s a big teamwork thing.”
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