By Rick Assad
It’s tough to imagine Jessie Virtue struggles with confidence. That’s because the Burroughs High senior defender on the girls’ soccer team is, according to Brady Riggs, the coach, one of the best to ever play at the school and has been recognized as such after being named All-Pacific League first-team the last two seasons.
“I honestly struggled with getting mentally ready for a game for a while,” she said. “I have struggled a lot with confidence, so it has taken a lot of time to overcome that.”
Virtue, a defensive wizard, who has accounted for four goals and eight assists in 49 matches across two and a half varsity seasons, tries to calm her nerves before a game.
“I used to go into games very nervous and I doubted myself a lot,” she admitted. “But I know now how much easier it is to get through the mental challenges when you take a breath and relax.”
Virtue went on: “Sure I am still nervous, but I change my mindset so it’s a lot more positive going in and that has really turned around my mental state before and during the game,” she said.
Virtue has risen to the challenge and has forged her own trail.
“I am one of the three captains we have on the varsity team this year and I am very excited for the opportunity,” she said. “The other captains are two very lovely ladies, Gabby Morales and Lauryn Bailey. I am over the moon to be leading the team with them.”
Virtue continued: “I know and am sure that all three of us will lead the team differently, seeing that we all bring very different things to the table,” she noted. “But it’s the mixture of different personalities and goals that the three of us have, that will really unite beautifully. I am full of hope and excitement for my final year at Burroughs leading with them.”
Riggs has a mountain of praise for Virtue.
“Jessie represents everything I admire about athletes. She is an incredibly hard worker, is tireless on the field and plays with a true warrior spirit,” he said. “She has been a stalwart on defense the last two seasons, leading us to the Pacific League championship in 2019.”
Riggs added: “Her versatility makes her invaluable for our team. She has played as an outside back, center back and most recently as our holding midfielder. She is a lockdown defender,” he said. “Jessie has solidified her place on this program and has earned a spot on my all-time starting 11 at Burroughs High.”
Riggs wasn’t finished. “Jessie has Division I talent and with a good attitude and work ethic. She will make an impact wherever she goes,” he said.
Playing AYSO since age five, Virtue now seems at ease with the game.
“I think I find success in soccer because of many years of practice, dedication and sacrifice for soccer and countless amazing support systems,” she said. “I have been playing soccer so long it is almost second nature for me and I think it helps me enormously.”
Virtue continued her thought: “The reason why I say sacrifice is because throughout the years playing both high school and club I have had to miss out on a lot of social event types of things because I’ve felt soccer is more important in the long run,” she said.
No one has escaped COVID-19 which has brought pain and suffering to the entire world.
“As weird as this may sound, COVID kind of came at a good time for me,” Virtue explained. “Just before COVID hit, I had a lot of stressful things coming up for me. For club, we were about to go to Dallas for a tournament and I would’ve missed a whole week of school before a major calculus test and AP tests were also coming up. And to be very honest, I really disliked soccer at this point. I was very unhappy and unmotivated. I was beyond stressed plus calculus was not my best subject, so the pressure was really on. But COVID did come and I feel like I got a magical free pass on all those things.”
Virtue added: “My club team at the time, GPS [LA] ended up folding and I didn’t have a team for a while, too,” she said. “So all of a sudden, my super busy junior year kind of became a bit easier. I finally got the opportunity to really focus on school and take some time away from soccer. This big break from soccer really showed me a new part of myself that I was glad to learn about myself. It also showed me the parts of soccer that made me love the game. I had focused on the bad aspects for way too long.”
The Indians are coming off a good season in which they went 13-6-2 and 10-3-1 for third place in league and lost to Wilson 4-1 in the CIF Southern Section Division IV first round, but there were matches when the team struggled.
“This is definitely a big question we battled with last year during the season. At times we would get unmotivated and couldn’t get out of the rut,” Virtue said. “There was one game specifically where I remember this happening. We were playing against Hoover at home and we were not able to score at all. We missed many of our opportunities and it almost felt as if the field was silent. No one was communicating or moving the ball. Halftime came around and I tried and tried to figure out the problem and I really couldn’t find the answer. I even went to Brady and tried to ask him why we couldn’t work together.”
Virtue went on: “I started to tear up a little bit and he and I had a really good talk during that halftime,” she said. “We spoke about the state of our team then and what was going on with us. But still we had no clear answer. The next half I really knew something had to change. I started out hard and worked as hard as I possibly could that game. And sure enough we started to score. I made runs and crosses and sprinted back when I needed to and I gradually saw everyone start to pick it up. We ended up winning [7-1] and I felt really proud of myself. So, in situations like I think that when communicating at halftime doesn’t do the trick, you have to lead by example.”
Virtue has also emerged as a quiet leader. “I feel that in recent years I have become much more vocal on the field and in life all together,” she said. “I am speaking up more for myself and for the team and I am glad that is a new quality I possess. But historically, I feel I’ve always been most proud of my effort in the game. I do not go into a game or come off the field slacking off. I really believe that giving it your all is the most important thing you can do. I have some other assets like the little slide tackle trick I pull out every so often, which I am also a fan of.”
Virtue is fond of a few key matches that the Indians have played. “I definitely have quite a few highlights. A huge one was when we found out that we were league champ my sophomore year,” she said. “We had just won our game against either Pasadena or Glendale, I believe, and we were taking a team photo. We knew we were in the running for league champs, but it all came down to the score of the Crescenta Valley versus Arcadia game that was happening at the same time.”
Virtue added: “All of a sudden, Brady runs up to us saying he had some big news for us,” she said. “He brought us into a little huddle and said, “CV-Arcadia is 0-0. You’re league champs.” We all screamed and celebrated and it was an amazing moment. We were the Burroughs girls’ soccer league champs for the first time in 26 years and it felt great.”
That season the Indians carved out a 16-4-2 mark and a 12-1-1 record for the top spot, defeated Artesia 4-1, but fell to Hemet 4-2 in the second round of the Division IV playoffs.
When this season takes place, Virtue and the Indians are hoping to duplicate that scene and feeling.