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All-Attitude Athlete


By John B. Trainer, Crimson Staff Writer

Looking at Harvard senior Jen Minkus, you wouldn't guess that she is the hockey player who scored the winning goal in the women's Beanpot finals over Northeastern.

On the soccer player who took home the 1992 Ivy League Rookie of the Year award in women's soccer--her senior year.

Or the tennis player who competed in the number two position for the better part of her sophomore year.

Minkus doesn't cut an imposing figure. Nor does she have the hardened glare of a four-year athlete. Yet Minkus isn't just one of these people. She's all of them.

In college, the two-sport athlete is rare enough. The three-sport athlete is exceptional. It takes something extra.

For Minkus, it's an attitude. She's got a tough competitive edge. She wants to be great, and she has the drive to back it up.

"I hate to lose more than anything," Minkus says. "Sure, ask 90 athletes and 90 of them will say that, but I am the worst loser you've ever met."

Classmate Beverly Stickles, who played ice hockey with Minkus for two years, couldn't agree more.

"She's incredibly determined," Stickles says. "If we were down a goal late in the third period, she would just play harder."

Minkus was introduced to sports at the tender age of five. In the first game she ever played--a soccer match--she scored the winning goal.

"I was like, 'I love this,'" Minkus says. "I was hooked."

Her father, an All-America lacrosse player from C.W. Post, instilled in the young athlete the desire to be the best. That mentality, coupled with being the only girl on teams of boys, shaped a style of play that can only be called aggressive.

Minkus became an offensive star. Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" once featured Minkus for scoring 55 goals in 9 games for her soccer team.

"The biggest thing I learned growing up was being there 100 percent mentally and even more so physically," Minkus says. "If you're there, there will be some chance for you to do something.

"I think some people tune in and tune out physically and have a terrible day. But mentally, you can always assure that you're there."

When she was 11, the soccer star discovered tennis.

"I played one game of tennis, Went home and asked my mother if I could take tennis lessons," Minkus says.

Her mother was reluctant. Tennis lessons were expensive. But Minkus borrowed a racquet and started practicing against the family's garage door.

Three weeks later, her mother relented. Tennis was in, but Minkus had a long climb ahead of her.

Most tennis stars start playing at the age of six. Minkus began at 13.

"Tennis was a challenge, because it wasn't easy for me," Minkus says. "I was working so hard, and I was good, but not as good as I wanted to be."

By the time she was 16, though, Minkus was ranked seventh in the East and earned an invitation to the under-17 national tournament.

Unfortunately, two weeks before the tournament, she tore a ligament colliding with the goalie in a soccer game.

"I was distraught," Minkus says. "To go to nationals was a dream for me."

Although she missed the tournament, she recovered quickly and was on the courts in time to be recruited by Harvard, where she played tennis her freshman and sophomore years.

But when the Ivy League passed a rule prohibiting tennis coaches from attending winter practices, Minkus decided that unsupervised practices were not intense enough for her. So Minkus returned to ice hockey for the winter.

Then, when the fall tennis schedule was cut back her senior year, she took up soccer again. She was the team's second-leading scorer and was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year.

Despite all the accolades she's received, Minkus says her success comes not from any athletic gift but from the lessons she learned when she was six.

"I'm quick," Minkus says, "but ability-wise, I don't match up to a lot of other people on the teams. Mentally, I have something different that other people with more ability don't need.

"People talk about a nose for the goal, for instance. But my goals are never pretty. They're hustling goals, little tip-ins. It all comes back to the intensity and being there 100 percent in all the games. And not missing any of those opportunities."

Then she pauses for a moment.

"That, I think, is definitely from my dad."

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