Back in 2013, coach Seamus O’Connor noticed something special about then-sophomore Paula Jurewicz.
The following year, Jurewicz tore her ACL in a game against Memphis on Oct. 5, 2014, forcing her to miss the rest of the season.
But even with a 9-12 month recovery in her future, Jurewicz watched film of every game and stayed involved with the team in any way she could.
“I couldn’t do much on the field, so I was willing to do whatever I could to help out the team,” Jurewicz said. “I always was wanting to watch film, and see what went wrong, and what we could’ve done better and what we did well, and maybe bring it up to Seamus and give suggestions.”
Not long after Jurewicz’s injury that same October, O’Connor believed it was an appropriate time to ask her if she would be interested in a coaching position with the Owls.
Initially, she was hesitant about the possible transition to the sideline, but as she continued to watch game film in her dorm every weekend, Jurewicz began to realize she could stay close to the soccer field after her college career.
After she served as a student coach in Spring 2016, Jurewicz officially joined O’Connor’s coaching staff in July.
“After that injury, it really got her thinking,” O’Connor said. “When she got hurt, we had a long conversation.”
“Immediately she was like, ‘No, I can’t see myself not having soccer in my life, so if this is how I can stay involved right now, I’ll do it.’ And so she just dove right into it,” O’Connor added.
O’Connor said as Jurewicz recovered from her ACL injury, she started to think more like a coach than a player. He started to give her coaching assignments like writing pregame speeches and more film studies of future opponents.
During Jurewicz’s senior year, O’Connor began to lean on her like a player-coach. The two would exchange gameplans regularly, O’Connor said.
It was all part of the process of transitioning her from player to coach.
Junior midfielder Delia Trimble said playing with Jurewicz on the field, made for a smooth transition.
“She’s just somebody who stands out the second you walked into this team,” Trimble said. “Right away people pinpoint her as a leader. Somebody that knows what they’re doing, somebody that’s going to hold people accountable, somebody that you can go to. All around a very charismatic leader.”
Last season on a three-game road trip, the Owls lost three consecutive matches by one goal to conference opponents Central Florida, South Florida and Connecticut.
In the following practice after the Connecticut game, Jurewicz and other team captains held a meeting at The Pavilion.
Trimble said the team left the three-game span feeling frustrated, and Jurewicz knew exactly how to lift her team’s confidence.
“Paula along with her co-captains gathered us after practice and were like, ‘Alright look, this isn’t who we are. We know we can compete with these teams, and we have the opportunity to be one of the better teams in the conference and we know that but the results aren’t showing it, so we need to convince everyone else by winning games,’” Trimble said.
After the meeting, the Owls went on to win four of their next six matches to finish the year with a 12-7-1 record.
Jurewicz made 69 starts on defense and scored five goals, all game winners, in four years with the Owls.
As a player, Jurewicz served as a channel between the coach and the players, but it became an even greater tool for O’Connor once she became part of his coaching staff.
“She speaks female, she does a great job of that but she also doesn’t baby them,” O’Connor said. “It’s easier when it’s coming from another female to be like, ‘Hey, you gotta suck it up right now. You gotta do a better job, you’re tougher than that and this is not acceptable right now.’ That’s been very, very helpful for me because sometimes I don’t know. … If I’m pushing them too far.”
“We joke,” O’Connor added. “But she will be a major head coach by the time she’s 26, 27. I think she’ll be a head coach at a big university.”
Thomas Ignudo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.