Women's soccer

Baldwinsville native Firenze living dream playing at Syracuse

Luke Rafferty | Contributing Photographer

Jackie Firenze scored the game-winning goal for Syracuse in its win over UConn last Thursday. The highly touted freshman dreamed of playing for SU growing up in Baldwinsville.

Jackie Firenze’s parents saw potential in their young daughter. They installed green turf-like carpeting in the basement of her childhood home, so she could kick a ball around and work on her first touches whenever she wanted.

Just last week, Firenze worked on that same first touch with Syracuse assistant coach Adam Reekie before SU’s game against Connecticut. Three hours later, Firenze, playing in her first Big East game, scored the game-winning goal with 30 seconds left.

Syracuse head coach Phil Wheddon called it the biggest goal and biggest win in program history.

Firenze spent her teenage years living in Baldwinsville and grew up following Syracuse athletics. She came to the Carrier Dome and the SU Soccer Stadium to watch her heroes play. For her to now be wearing an SU uniform is a surreal experience for the Firenze family.

“We always would come to watch the men’s and women’s teams over the years,” said Firenze’s mother, Kelly. “We were always in the stands, so this feels like home.”

Kelly said it gives her chills to hear her daughter’s name announced over the public address system during games.

From the bleachers at SU Soccer Stadium, Firenze dreamed of her Syracuse debut. She envisioned herself on the field, playing with Cecilia Borgstrom, Brittany Anghel, Jenna Rickan, and Skylar Sabbag. She took mental notes so she’d be ready to play when given the opportunity.

She even memorized the team’s warm-up routine. And when this year’s team decided on how to get ready before games, the freshman knew just what to do from watching in the past.

“I was like, ‘I know exactly what they do. They do this, this, this and this,’” Firenze said.

She was even more comfortable with putting on a Syracuse jersey for the first time.

“I guess a lot of people would be nervous, but I was more excited than nervous,” Firenze said. “I mean, obviously there were some butterflies, but it was great. I was so happy.”

Her family is excited, too. Eight of Firenze’s family members were on hand to see her goal against the Huskies, including her sister, 2013 SU soccer recruit Emma Firenze.

“We’ve played soccer together since we were 5,” Emma said. “We’ve always been on the same team, so coming here and being on the same team as her was really important for me.”

For the sisters to play in college together is a dream come true. Jackie Firenze originally made a verbal commitment to Boston University, but withdrew when she realized what Syracuse athletics meant to her.

“It’s crazy,” Emma said. “I can’t believe that she’s actually out there because we grew up watching it. It’s just shocking, almost, to realize that we’re actually here and we’re going to be playing (together).”

Kelly said she’s thrilled her daughters will be together again.

The sisters share a love for soccer and have practiced together hours on end, starting from a young age in the family’s basement. Jackie Firenze has become the player she is by always striving for more.

Playing for the Empire United soccer club, Firenze’s teams competed against the nation’s top teams. In one game, as Empire coach Mike Paolini put it, the team was getting “shell shocked” by the defending league champions and was lucky to be down only 1-0.

“Jackie scored a free kick with probably two minutes to go and we ended up tying it 1-1,” Paolini said. “It was an unbelievable free kick. That was really special.”

At a young age, those around Jackie realized she had special talent. Opponents always kept an eye out for her No. 9 jersey.

“The thing about Jackie is she’s worked for everything,” Paolini said. “Even at that age all the way through 18 years old, Jackie put her social life aside and focused hard on her academics and soccer. That was her life and I think all the opportunities that have opened up, not only soccer, but off the field, are because of her dedication.”

Paolini was in attendance for Syracuse’s home opener and called it a joyful and fulfilling moment.

“Everyone through the years knew she was a good player,” he said. “It’s like climbing the mountain. I think it’s harder to stay on top of the mountain than it is to climb it. I think she was at the top of the mountain a lot.”

The goal against UConn was the highlight of Firenze’s young collegiate career. For it to come playing for the team she grew up idolizing made it even better.

Firenze had opportunities to play elsewhere, but Syracuse sports are all she’s ever known and what she grew up loving.

At the end of the day, it’s where she wanted to be.

“I couldn’t be happier that I’m here,” Firenze said. “I’m really excited about what’s going to come this year and the years after.”

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