There's an old saying: "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." Canine reference aside, there will never be a saying that more aptly describes Jasmyne Spencer.
The diminutive Spencer stands only 5-foot-1, but there is no measure for her heart, determination or will to win.
"Those are just some of the attributes that separate Jasmyne from other players," says Maryland head coach Brian Pensky. "She wants to be the best. She wants to beat the best. And most important, she believes that both can happen. There are a lot of talented players in college soccer; but what separates the good ones from the great ones is their mentality, and their desperation to be great."
The native of Bay Shore, N.Y., arrived in College Park in the fall of 2008 with a reputation as a dynamic scorer, something the Terps desperately lacked in previous seasons. But, as often happens, things don't always go as planned.
During her freshman season, Spencer did not score a single goal or tally an assist for the Terps, as the team continued to struggle offensively. It didn't help matters that Spencer tweaked a hamstring early in preseason training and never really got into the flow of the offense.
"It was really tough on me mentally and physically trying to come back from injury and adjust," says Spencer. "Not only did I have to adjust to Division I soccer, but ACC play because I missed basically the entire non-conference schedule and had to jump right into playing against the best women in the country."
Naysayers wondered if she was too small to play in the rugged Atlantic Coast Conference. But Spencer refused to listen and did the only thing she knows to do in the off-season - work.
She spent the spring season getting fitter, working on footwork and, most important, finishing. The Terps needed a finisher up top and Spencer was determined to prove that she was indeed the answer.
"Jasmyne had a chip on her shoulder that entire spring, and it continued thru the fall of 2009," remembers Pensky. "As a matter of fact, she still has that chip. She is probably the nicest person with the biggest chip on their shoulder. She's constantly out to prove of how good she is, and how good Maryland Soccer is."
At the start of 2009, the Terrapins had to replace both starting forwards. Lydia Hastings, who led the team in points as a freshman in 2008, moved to her more natural wide midfield spot and Kaila Sciascia graduated. The opportunity was there for Spencer to take over, but more important, she was healthy.
It didn't take long for the speedster to wipe away any questions of her scoring prowess by scoring three goals in the team's first two games, both on the road and in her home state. While she would be the first to admit that she had not yet "arrived," that weekend went a long way toward propelling her to a sensational sophomore season.
"It was a huge boost in my confidence just getting my first collegiate goal at Army," remembers Spencer, "and then helping the team get a tough win with two goals against Fordham. After that weekend, I was ready to just fly the rest of the season"
Spencer went on to score eight more goals for the Terps during their seemingly magical run in 2009 and helped lead the team to its first NCAA tournament berth since 2004. Her 10 goals, including the team's lone goal in a 1-0 win over Washington State that propelled Maryland into the NCAA Sweet 16, were the most for a Terrapin player since Jackie Mynarski had 11 in 1999.
With the goals and points came recognition and honors. Spencer became the first field player to be named first team All-ACC since Mallory Mahar in 2004. She was also a first team All-Southeast Region selection by the NSCAA and was named one of Soccer America's MVP's for 2009.
Redemption was sweet for Spencer, but she was determined to prove 2009 was no fluke.
"Jasmyne's success last season didn't change her; not one bit," says Pensky. "Her mentality remains the same. She feels like this team has so much more to prove; and that she has so much more to do individually as well. Everyone on our team wants Jasmyne on the field; and it's absolutely not just because she's fast. Her will to win and consequential work rate are in the special category, and that's why she's so vital to this team."
Things started out well for Spencer in the 2010 season opener. She tallied an assist in the team's 6-0 win over Iona, but from then on things were a little different.
No longer a relative unknown or an underachiever, Spencer was the focus of every opposing team's defensive game plan. Opponents knew of her scoring prowess, her deft touch and her ability to create space for a shot where there seemingly was none and did everything in their power to make sure Spencer was not the one to beat them.
"Teams have tried everything to try to stop or slow down Jasmyne," says Pensky. "They've man-marked her. They've man-marked her with constant cover. They've dropped off and tried to deny her the space behind. Unfortunately for those teams, Jasmyne's persistence and disruptiveness have won out at all times. Either she's eventually scoring, or she's occupying multiple defenders, and thus freeing up her teammates to create and score goals. And Jasmyne herself is extremely fortunate to be surrounded by tremendous forwards and midfielders, who are now drawing attention away from her. So it's an absolute win-win for our team."
As Pensky points out, even when she wasn't scoring herself, the attention opponents paid to Spencer created opportunities for her teammates, especially her running mate Ashley Grove, who tallied the game-winning goal in each of Maryland's first three games of 2010.
Undaunted, Spencer continued to work and work and work. Her efforts finally paid off with her first goal of the season in the 3-1 win over a tough Tennessee squad at the Lady Vol Classic in Knoxville. She followed that by scoring the first two goals of a 4-0 victory over Kennesaw State to help the Terps win the Classic title. For her efforts she was named the tournament MVP and became the team's first ACC Player of the Week since 2004.
Things looked to be back on track for Spencer, but all that did was remind opponents of what a dangerous threat she was. In the Terps' next three games, wins over Stony Brook, Seton Hall and Delaware, respectively, Spencer was the focus of each defense. And, while she was able to tally assists in two of those victories, she was held without a goal.
Frustration might set in for a goal-scorer like Spencer, but even though she was the target for opposing defenses she looked upon it as a challenge and an opportunity.
"I just stay as positive and productive as I can," says Spencer. "I kind of see it as a nice little challenge, that if I can score even when they're gunning for me, it'll make me that much better of a forward. And even if I can't score I just work that much harder to help in our offense and set someone else up to score."
Then came the George Mason game on September 17.
Maryland entered the game with an 18-game non-conference winning streak and a crowd of more than 1,000 fans expected to see that extended to 19 vs. the Patriots. But George Mason had other ideas, netting an early goal off of a free kick to take a 1-0 lead.
The Patriots clung to that lead as the game wore on. The Terrapins played with a sense of urgency, but despite dominating the game, nothing broke right for Maryland. Someone needed to step up and make something happen.
Spencer, who was battling a stomach ailment, was determined not to let the Terps lose. The smallest player on the field bulled through three Patriot defenders to get off a good strike from the right corner of the George Mason penalty box. The Patriot goalkeeper made the save, but couldn't control the rebound. Spencer scrambled for the loose ball, battling two GMU players for it, and was able to get off a shot that found its way into the open net, tying the score at 1-1 and sending the game into overtime.
It wasn't a pretty goal. It wasn't a technical or skillful goal. It was a goal that came about because of guts and heart and determination.
But Spencer wasn't done yet. Four minutes into the first overtime Spencer showed she's more than just guts and grit.
Despite playing more than 75 minutes, Spencer was ready to make a run to get behind the Patriot backline and senior center back Colleen Deegan recognized that and sent a long ball over the top of the George Mason defense into space.
Spencer showed a tremendous burst to get around a defender and run onto the ball. The Patriot goalkeeper came off of her line to try to intercept, but Spencer didn't rush her shot. She showed great patience, forcing the keeper to commit before getting off a deft touch that sent the ball over the keeper and into the right side of the GMU goal.
That goal was a pretty goal, a technical and skillful goal. But more important to Spencer it was the game-winning goal and moved the Terps to 8-0-0 on the season and gave her team momentum as it heads into conference play.
"We're just taking this season one team, one game at a time," says Spencer. "We try to focus on correcting our own little mistakes and getting better every day to give ourselves the best possible chance to perform well in every game."
No matter which team the Terps are playing, who is marking her or what the challenge is, three things are certain about Jasmyne Spencer - she will never give up, she will continue to work and she will always fight to the end