By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director
SALEM, Ore. -- For any student-athlete competing in NCAA Division III, attending college means focusing on both academics and athletics. This is exceptionally true for Jill Phillips (Fairbanks, AK/West Valley HS), a senior majoring in chemistry and competing for the women's soccer team at Willamette University.
Phillips wanted a rigorous and interesting major in college. She also wanted to play soccer. She chose Willamette because it provided her opportunities to excel on and off the field.
After taking several science courses, she chose to major in Willamette's biochemistry track in the Department of Chemistry.
"I decided that I wanted to go into medicine," Phillips said. "It was the best decision for me. I really love the biochemistry track. I love the professors. And there's a tight family atmosphere."
According to Phillips, her courses have supplied her with practical applications beyond the classroom.
"In biochemistry and experimental biochemistry I could really see how the course work could be applied," she said.
It helps that Phillips has received motivation from her professors. Sarah Kirk, department chair and professor of chemistry, has been particularly helpful.
"She's my advisor," Phillips said. "She's been wonderful."
In addition, Alison Fisher, associate professor of chemistry, and Karen Holman, professor of chemistry, have contributed to Phillips' development within the major. Fisher provided Phillips with motivation to choose biochemistry as an emphasis. Holman will oversee Phillip's senior research project.
Willamette wouldn't have been such a good overall match for Phillips, however, without the women's soccer team. For Phillips, soccer at Willamette began with a recruiting call from Head Coach Hillary Arthur.
"I remember calling her, talking to her, receiving emails," Arthur said. "She told me that the coach at another school said she would have to try out."
Arthur asked Phillips, "Why would you want to go to the other school to try out, when you have a roster spot here? We knew she would be a difference maker for us."
"It was the most beautiful campus I had ever seen," Phillips said regarding her visit to Willamette. "It was the package deal for me where I could get a really good education and play soccer."
Phillips chose to attend Willamette and she has been making a big impact on the soccer team ever since.
According to Arthur, Phillips "leads by example and she's someone who goes above and beyond what's required."
That willingness to go beyond the expected is a key reason Phillips has contributed at several positions throughout her career. She has primarily played as a defensive midfielder and on defense, but has also contributed on the attack and played goalkeeper in one game last season.
"She had no hesitation doing double duty," Arthur said. "She knew someone on the team had to do it and she was the one."
What has enabled Phillips to contribute in so many ways? "I think it's her first touch," Arthur said. "When you have a good first touch, you can help out anywhere.
"And her field awareness," Arther added as one of Phillips' strengths. "But I would say that her top skill that lets her play anywhere is her decision making. She sees the field really well and makes the right decisions."
From Phillips' perspective, her experiences at West Valley High School in Fairbanks, Alaska, provided a great boost in learning how to play multiple positions in soccer.
"When I was in high school, I trained at a lot of positions," she said. "We had a small roster. I had to go wherever I was needed. Luckily, I was able to fill those roles."
Although most of her efforts have been on defense, she has recorded five goals and five assists in her Willamette career. One of the goals gave the Bearcats a 1-0 win over George Fox University in two overtimes on Oct. 20, 2013. She scored the goal with just three seconds left in the second overtime.
Willamette outshot GFU during the game 36-5. The Bruins goalkeeper, Alyssa Montero, made 13 saves, but couldn't stop Phillips' header from close range following a corner kick.
"Sarah Desautels went over to take the corner," Phillips recalled. "And I was thinking 'this has to go in.' And it went right at my head and I put it in. It was pretty crazy."
And it was a big moment for the team.
"The last-second goal … there are certain things you're never going to forget and that is one of them," Arthur said. "Having such a dramatic finish, it felt like the World Cup. I think it was a huge moment for Jill."
Phillips is in her senior year at Willamette. She continues to be a key leader for the women's soccer team.
"We have played her at center back or defensive center midfielder," Arthur said regarding Phillips' starting position this fall. "She helps connect the back line with the midfield line. I know that with her work rate she's involved in almost every play.
"My hope for Jill is that she continues to have her best season yet. I know that she is a difference maker and contributes wherever we put her on the field."
Phillips looked forward to the season with similar expectations.
"Coming in as a senior, I was hoping to definitely set the pace … be a leader," Phillips said. "My goal this year is to be whatever the team needs me to be."
After completing her senior season and finishing her undergraduate degree on the biochemistry track, Phillips plans to take a year or two off and travel. She also might attend a paramedic school in Fairbanks.
"And then I'll try to get into medical school," she said, most likely on the West Coast.
This past summer, Phillips worked as a deck hand on a sternwheeler on the Chena River in Alaska. As with her other efforts, Phillips put in a total effort.
"There are a lot of tourists that come through and want to get that real experience," Phillips said. "And my job was to make sure that they got that experience. I started the day I got back home and I was working until the day I left (for preseason soccer at Willamette)."