Jenna Ottereyes of Waswanipi is rising fast in the world of youth soccer
Four years ago, when Jenna Ottereyes moved to Val-d’Or with her family, she was hoping she could play hockey like she had back home in Waswanipi. Because she was only eight years old, however, she was too young for any league or team in town.
Two years ago, Jenna decided she’d try soccer, and a local sports organizer recommended she try out for a coach. Today, at age 12, she is likely the only Cree from Eeyou Istchee playing competitive soccer at the regional level, with the hope that she will advance to the provincial ranks in the coming years.
Even to her family, her rapid climb to soccer success comes as a surprise.
The day she tried out for coach Claude Montambeault, said her father, Jacob Ottereyes, “That was the first time she ever played soccer!”
But Montambeault recognized that Jenna had a fundamental talent.
“He told me she’s very skilled in positioning herself in soccer,” said Jacob. “She’s very disciplined in that way. She knew there was a structure to soccer, and she knew she had to stay at certain boundaries of the field. He said he was amazed – some of the girls there have played since they were five years old, but they’re still all over the field. He said that Jenna really understands the game and knows where to be. You can put her as an attacker, a defender – she knows where to play. She can do all those positions.”
Montambeault said that Jenna was in many ways a natural soccer player.
“She played hockey, and already had an idea of how to perceive the game, and she knew how to play on a team,” he explained. “What I did with her was help her to understand her position, then let her determine what she needed to do in the field to meet the demands of that position.”
Today, Jenna plays forward for both the Val-d’Or Blizz’Ors and the Abitibi-Témiscamingue Boréals. It’s the position she finds the most exciting.
“What I like about it is the running,” said Jenna. “I get to attack and make goals and pass. I just don’t like being defence – I get nervous and I’m scared I might make a mistake, and then there’s a goal.”
At first, Jenna said, making the transition from hockey in Waswanipi to soccer in Val-d’Or was a bit of a culture shock. “It was kind of weird, because there was a lot of French people, and I felt like an outsider,” she explained. Luckily, however, some of her teammates spoke enough English to reach out and include her in conversation. “They were nice to me. When I moved to Val-d’Or I went to French school for two years. Now I understand French, and I speak it okay.”
Montambeault said that part of the problem is that Jenna is naturally shy and doesn’t recognize her talent as a player.
“For her to function and increase her feeling of self-worth, I needed to put her in a situation where she could apply herself,’ Montambeault said. “She was a great player, but she didn’t have self-confidence. She listened to what I asked and did all the work. She was respectful to me and other players and the coaches, but it was hard for her to fit into the group.
“On the field she was an excellent player. What I needed to do with her was help her to understand that she needed to play her position and let others cover their areas of the field. In hockey, you don’t do that as much, but in soccer, you need to. Every player has a position and must do her own job. Jenna learned very quickly. If I had 11 players at the same level as her, I’d have a team full of stars.”
It was Montambeault who recommended Jenna to the regional level, where she began to play with the Boréals early last winter. Though she said she found the new team demanding, she has risen to the task and continues to challenge herself. Above the regional league, there remains only the provincial level, and then Team Canada, which Jenna already has her eyes on.
“I want to be a professional soccer player,” she said. “That’s what I want to do.”
On the first weekend of April, Jenna participated in the Laval International Soccer Cup, a championship of nearly 150 teams from across Quebec and other parts of Canada.
“It was a huge soccer dome with all kinds of people of different nationalities,” Jacob said. “I was trying to see if there were any Crees, or any other Native people – maybe there were, Mohawks say, but I didn’t recognize any. I was looking for Crees and I couldn’t find any. The only Cree player was my daughter. I was astonished to see that.”