FORT COLLINS, Colo. — In life, it's not always where you start, but where the journey takes you.
Jessica Jarecki knows that well. Even as a star pitcher at Chatfield High School through 2016, she wasn't getting the Division I looks she had hoped for. But that's okay.
"I think I grew as an athlete at Chadron (State College) in ways that I might not have if I initially came (to Colorado State University)," she said. "I think the growth that I had at Chadron helped me excel here."
After dominating the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in Division II for two years, Colorado State finally came calling.
"It's been a great example of what you can do if you have the drive and if you have a great attitude and if you just bring that work ethic each and every day," head coach Jen Fisher said. "She just had this stick-to-itiveness that she wanted to play at the highest level and she believed in herself. She really took a leap of faith in herself and in our program. So I think the difference was that there was just maybe a little more confidence there."
The Rams offered her a preferred walk-on position for the 2019 season, but it didn't last long. Jarecki started in 23 of 25 games, throwing 14 complete games with six shutouts. Her impressive season helped the Rams to an NCAA tournament appearance. She earned her scholarship that year.
"I think you never know with pitchers how they're going to walk on and end up in the lineup, and she really immediately proved herself that she was one of our top pitchers," pitching coach Dedeann Pendleton-Helm said.
"She's just the epitome of what you want at CSU and she's so incredibly coachable," Fisher added. "So she just flat out deserved it."
Keeping the former Chatfield Charger at Colorado State was key for her fifth and final year of eligibility, as it is with all in-state talent.
"It's extremely important. I think we have incredible talent in the state," Pendleton-Helm said. "And honestly, if you can pitch in this thin air in Colorado, you can pitch anywhere."
Three years later, the super senior (or Great Grandma, as her team kindly calls her) geared up to pitch in her final stand. Senior Day was an emotional task for Jarecki and her coaches, but one she was willing to take on.
"I'm really going to challenge myself to stay present and stay in the moment with my team," she said before the weekend. "Cherish putting my cleats on, putting that jersey on, playing with this incredible team we have here, and just enjoy playing on this home field for one last time."
Pendleton-Helm developed a close bond with Jarecki over the three years. In fact, she said she was grateful that COVID-19 provided them an extra year to spend together, if nothing else.
"I just really, really care about her as a person," she said. "You know, we have strong, adult conversations. She's that high-level player and I'm going to miss that the most."
The fairy tail ended as imagined -- a near no-hitter -- complete game shutout. She allowed just two hits in seven innings of work, no-hitting the San Diego State Aztecs for 6.1 innings.
"They've been through a lot and they've come through with this incredible attitude and they're still fighting still right through the end and still learning, still becoming better people and better teammates, and so I'm thrilled to have had the chance to be her coach," Fisher said.
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