Jenna Pearson overcomes injury, makes impact
Story by Doug Carroll
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Jenna Pearson’s impact on the women’s basketball program at Grand Canyon University can’t be measured by the conventional barometers of games played or points scored.
Rather, this describes her much better: After undergoing surgery last Sept. 3 for a dislocated shoulder — her third such injury — Pearson went to physical therapy in Tempe three days a week, for up to three hours each day, for nearly four months. She was driven by the goal of being ready to play in January at the start of the Western Athletic Conference schedule in her final season at GCU.
She made it, and when Judy Jones was lost for the season with a knee injury on Dec. 28, Pearson immediately assumed a much larger role than anyone had expected. She scored nine points that day in her first game back, against Long Island-Brooklyn, and went on to have games of 17 points against Utah Valley and 19 points against Seattle. She averages 7.8 points and 23 minutes for the Antelopes, both career highs.
But it’s not about points or playing time. It’s about the fact that, against all odds, she came all the way back. To the surprise of no one who knows her, she sees only the positives of rehabbing an injury and missing nearly half of a season.
“I had so much peace and enjoyment (sitting out),” says Pearson, the only senior among 11 on this year’s men’s and women’s basketball teams to have spent all four years of eligibility at GCU. “My teammates surrounded me with so much support, and I was able to pour more into them emotionally, too.”
She wraps up the regular season this week with a pair of games in Antelope Gym, where her college career began before the move in 2011-12 into GCU Arena (now closed for expansion). That seems appropriate, because she considers her freshman and senior seasons to have been her most rewarding.
The 2010-11 team, led by All-American Samantha Murphy, went 29-3 and advanced to the NCAA Division II West Regional finals.
“The camaraderie of that team, it felt like family,” Pearson says. “It was a special group. It had such phenomenal leadership with Sam and Rosalyn (Nelson). And Kristi Girdley was a huge mentor to me who would pray with me on the way to preseason workouts.
“I played in every game that season, whether it was two minutes or 22 minutes.”
Pearson began at GCU as an education major but switched to exercise science and graduated in December. She already is pursuing a master’s degree in Christian ministry, and she envisions a career that will blend sports and faith — possibly with Fellowship of Christian Athletes or a similar organization.
She’d also consider working in enrollment or as a conditioning coach for GCU. Either of those would be a good fit, says Trent May, her head coach.
“She was all in for the University and the basketball program,” May says. “She never had a sense of entitlement, as some players do, and she always had her teammates and the staff at the forefront of her interests.
“The word ‘coachable’ is highly underrated these days, but it’s part of her DNA.”
Pearson says she doubts that her father, Kerry Pearson, would use that word to describe the first half of her junior season at Gilbert Christian High School. He was the coach and she was the star of a team that won an Arizona small-school state championship that season.
“I butted heads with him a lot,” she says, “and God had to work on my heart…. My dad doesn’t put value in my performance, but he does let me know when it’s not up to my potential. He has been my number one supporter and fan, and he has moved from coach to mentor and friend.”
Senior Kelsey Lorbeck, Pearson’s closest of many friends at GCU, says her pal walks the talk.
“She has a solid foundation with Jesus Christ, and she expresses that through her friends, family and teammates,” Lorbeck says. “She glorifies Him through her playing.”
Adds May: “She will be missed, first and foremost, because of the person she is.”
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.