April 17, 2008
By Maura K. Sullivan, Sports Information Student Assistant
Jaclyn Espinoza may only be a sophomore, but she is well on her way to becoming one of Notre Dame’s next great track and field stars. A marketing major who doubles up on events, throwing the shot put in the winter and the discus in the spring, Espinoza had a standout freshman season and there is more greatness in her future.
Espinoza qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championships last season in the discus, where she finished 22nd, and also received both all-Mideast Regional and all-BIG EAST honors for her achievements. She currently owns seven of the top 10 throws in Notre Dame history, including the third-best toss (50.42 meters/165 feet, 7 inches), and is also only the second Irish female to ever throw the discus more than 50 meters.
Espinoza’s skills are equally evident in the shot put. With a 13.42-meter (44 feet, 0 1/2 inches) toss, she earned an eighth-place finish at the 2007 BIG EAST indoor meet, scoring points for the Irish in the process. Espinoza was also a key part in helping Notre Dame’s outdoor track team win the BIG EAST title last spring, with an eighth-place finish in the shot put and a runner-up finish in the discus. Although she competes in both events for the Irish, Espinoza has a clear favorite.
“I definitely prefer the discus, because it goes farther,” she says. “There is a lot more technique and fitness involved in discus.”
Posting such impressive numbers as a freshman was a great achievement for Espinoza, but she is no stranger to success. The Keizer, Ore., native was a four-year letter winner in both track and basketball at Regis High School. She earned all-state honors in both sports and in 2005, she was named all-region Athlete of the Year by the Salem Statesman Journal. When it came time to choose between track and basketball, the decision was surprisingly easy for Espinoza.
“I like basketball a lot, and I still play sometimes,” she remembers. “But I think it was just that I was getting recruited more for track, and, comparison-wise, I was much better at track than I was at basketball.”
As she was coming to this decision, Notre Dame was one of several schools courting the star athlete. But it was a visit to Notre Dame’s legendary campus that sealed the deal for Espinoza.
“I had been recruited by several places, but then I came out here for a visit and I just really liked it here,” she notes. “It was the atmosphere and the people I got to meet, especially the other athletes. Everyone was really nice and I pretty much liked everything about Notre Dame.”
Espinoza was attracted to the whole package that is offered at Notre Dame: academics, athletics, spirituality, and school spirit. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is her favorite spot on campus, where she goes to take quiet time away from her busy schedule and pray. She takes equal pride in her efforts in the classroom and on the track.
“I like having something other than schoolwork to focus on; so I have my work, but I also have track,” she says. “I really like going to practice each day and trying to get better at what I do, to make improvements. It’s the same with school, like when you get an A on a paper. When you get a good mark or improve on your performance, it’s the most rewarding.”
With such dedication to both athletics and schoolwork, Espinoza maintains a delicate balance in her life.
“It’s definitely harder during the spring because we’re traveling a lot more,” she notes. “You have to start studying on the plane and in the hotel, where it’s a little harder to concentrate. I think it can be difficult, especially with the traveling, but it’s not too bad. You definitely have your time to focus and get things done. You have your practice and can come back and kind of relax for a little bit before you get your work done. I think its nice how at practice you can get away from school; it’s your down time in a way.”
Tremendous focus is required to balance academics and athletics at a high-caliber institution such as Notre Dame. She is able to separate the different areas of her life, giving each her full attention when necessary. School is her only focus while she is in class, and she gives her full attention to her workouts at practice and meets. It is this drive and determination that has led to such success in track and field. Espinoza takes a very mental approach when she is throwing and competing.
“Before I throw, I try and focus,” she says. “I don’t like to look at the other competitors. I’ve always been told that if you do that, you won’t be able to concentrate because you’re looking at their technique and you won’t be able to focus on your own. So I visualize in my head what I want it to look like and what I want to feel. Then when it’s my turn, I try and go in there and not think about anything. I just let the practice and muscle memory take over and try to throw it as hard as I can, basically.”
Espinoza credits her parents, Julie and Richard, with the successes that have come from her steely focus and determination. She names them as the greatest influences and inspirations in her life.
“Both my parents have always gone to all my competitions and taken me to practices,” she recalls with a smile. “They have always encouraged me and motivated me to try my hardest and, well, throw my farthest.”
The rhyme may be corny, but it is clear that her parents’ support has taken her far in life and will continue to do so. Prior to the start of the spring season, Espinoza was projected to again qualify for the NCAA outdoor meet and even threaten the school record in the discus. She is well on her way to adding these to her long list of accomplishments.
With such successes under her belt with two and half seasons still remaining, Espinoza is poised to make her mark in the Irish track and field record books, while still having the trademark well-rounded Notre Dame experience.
— ND —