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Marching On: Jenni Annicchiarico's career helped shape Carroll College's women's soccer program

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Marching On: Jenni Annicchiarico's career helped shape Carroll College's women's soccer program

Editor’s Note: "Marching On" is a series about former Carroll College athletes, where are they now, and the impact the school and Helena community had on them.

HELENA — Jenni Annicchiarico grew up in small-town Alberta, Canada.

Brooks, Alberta, Canada, if you want to get specific.

She was surrounded by hockey fans.

The NHL’s Calgary Flames didn’t play too far from her and hockey is, after all, her country’s national sport.

But Annicchiarico found another sport she loved thanks to her father.

“My dad was always my soccer coach growing up,” she said. “I come from an Italian family, so soccer was always No. 1 in our house.”

Little did she know how much of an impact her career would make on Carroll College’s women’s soccer program.

A perfectionist

Carroll College added a women’s soccer program to its athletic department in 1997.

But it hadn’t won a game on the national level before Annicchiarico’s senior season.

The 2007 team would change that.

Just one year prior, the Saints lost to Lee University in the first round of the NAIA National Tournament.

Heading into Annicchiarico’s final season, the Saints were experienced with 10 seniors on the roster. They were also hungry, looking to avenge a loss to Lee.

“Every time the team either made nationals and lost or missed the tournament all together, our desire grew stronger,” Annicchiarico said. “Once we knew the end was coming, we knew we had to win.”

Throughout Annicchiarico’s career, she became a perfectionist. All of her teammates were.

Was it the drive from first-year head coach Dave Thorvilson, who took over for Mark Hiemenz that season?

For Annicchiarico, it came through hard work and determination.

Soccer couldn’t be played outside half of the year due to snow and frigid temperatures. So she excelled on some artificial turf inside.

“You can hit it off the boards and you are on the ball a lot more,” Annicchiarico said. “It helped with making decisions quickly because there is less space (on the field).”

Her skill grew and, once she started thinking about college, she definitely wanted to keep playing.

Finding Carroll

Annicchiarico sent tapes to schools around the United States so they could see her play.

One landed into the hands of Hiemenz, and it wasn’t long before he hopped into his car and drove up to Brooks to watch her play in an indoor tournament.

“I was interested, but didn’t think it would actually happen,” Annicchiarico said. “I visited the campus, met some of the girls and my parents were so supportive of my decision (to sign). It was a little bit scary because I was leaving Canada and I didn’t know anybody but it ended up the best decision I have ever made.”

Annicchiarico continued to work on her game and, by the time 2007 arrived, she was a target that teams started to plan for.

“Jenni was the best player that I had in this program,” Saints coach Dave Thorvilson said. “She is very dynamic and could score a ton of goals, but she was also very unselfish.”

While Annicchiarico was a star scoring goals, she also made her teammates better.

Annicchiarico finished second on the team with 13 goals scored, just behind Valerie Feltz, but led the Saints with 10 assists.

“All of our opponents knew how good she was and would put a lot of time and effort into her, and then she would lay the ball off to someone else who could put the ball into the back of the net,” Thorvilson said. “It was a very prolific offense.”

And the team’s success started quickly.

Seeking redemption

Carroll started the 2007 season quickly.

The Saints won their first 11 games before they were knocked off by Rocky Mountain College at home.

Two weeks later, the team got some retaliation by defeating the Battlin’ Bears 4-2 in Billings.

Things were good. The team was ranked and Carroll was buzzing. It didn’t take long for Annicchiarico to tell something special was happening.

“When we started, everyone had the same goal in mind. We wanted one more shot at the national tournament win,” Annicchiarico said. “We just didn’t want any regrets. That desperation really drove everyone.”

The Saints won the first ever Frontier Conference championship that year. They were also headed back to the NAIA National Tournament.

Carroll landed in Daytona Beach, Florida for the tournament, and right away it was tested.

It fought a Point Loma team in the second round that had 13 wins on the season.

But the difference in the game was an unassisted goal by Annicchiarico in the 75th minute.

The Saints won their first national tournament game with a 2-1 victory for their first in the program’s 10-year history.

“They just had the drive to win,” Thorvilson said.

The next day Carroll was sent home by Lindsey Wilson College. The players stuck around at the field after for about an hour, savoring their season, laughing, crying and embracing.

“We just thought about how lucky we were,” Annicchiarico said. “It was heartbreaking. I remember the bus ride back to the hotel was just quiet.”

Annicchiarico may have played her final game, but her impact on the team would never be forgotten. She is currently fourth in the program’s history with 101 points, including 37 goals and 27 assists. Her 2007 team’s 17-2-2 record is the best in program history.

Returning to Helena

Carroll’s women’s soccer team hasn’t won a game at the national tournament since that season.

Annicchiarico went on to play with a semi-pro team in Fort Collins, Colorado for one season, and then went back to Alberta to get a teaching degree.

She did come back for the first time last season so she could be inducted into the Carroll Athletics Hall of Fame where she was reunited with her teammates.

“It was so special and a huge honor,” Annicchiarico said. “It was really good to get back into those relationships with my former teammates. After so much time, you get removed from it.”

Annicchiarico is still involved with soccer as she coaches her three kids.

She still talks to her teammates through Zoom calls and, though that team is spread across two countries now, they still bring up that magical win against Point Loma.

“Those girls are my best friends,” Annicchiarico said. “Coming to Carroll was the best decision I could have made.”

Ryan Kuhn covers Carroll College athletics and high school sports for the Independent Record and Follow him on Twitter at @rskuhn

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