Jess Jobe sprinted around Turpin Stadium on a warm afternoon in early March, encouraging student-athletes who were in the infancy of spring camp.
Wife and co-head coach Anna Jobe gave birth to the couple’s first child, Sterling, the day before.
The coaching duo planned extensively how to build on a young team that rallied to tie NSU’s program record with 13 wins while raising a newborn.
Within a week, the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports across the nation.
Soccer camp paused. Recruiting trips halted. Classes moved online as students scattered back to their hometowns.
And the Jobes were able to experience each of Sterling’s milestones together instead of in shifts.
“Obviously things didn’t go as planned with the pandemic,” said Jess Jobe, who is entering his third season in Natchitoches with Anna. “We wanted to get Sterling on a schedule that would free up Anna for practices, and we would lean on some individuals in the community for help.
“We have a section of our press box that could be made into a makeshift nursery. But the really special part of this experience for us has been being able to spend a lot more time with him because of the pandemic. It took a lot of things way out of order and disrupted our daily lives and the focus we had with our team, but we got to really see him grow and develop. We got to know him and got our feet underneath us as parents. We were allowed to get into a rhythm. It’s been a really special time for us as a family.”
“Flexible.” It’s the word the Jobes use most often when describing how one navigates entering parenthood for the first time during a pandemic with tremendous uncertainty around athletics.
“It’s been a whirlwind, planning for the unexpected and not knowing what’s going to happen,” said Anna Jobe, who corralled a squirming Sterling as he reached for her lapel microphone and her hair. “But we’ve tried to be flexible and roll with the punches – we’ve been committed to doing that and the players have been great with it.
“Initially, we wanted to get Sterling on a routine and get settled in as new parents. Both sets of our family were committed to come and help, and the Natchitoches community as well as our First Baptist Natchitoches family has been awesome. To be able to see Sterling develop so rapidly together has been really special for us, and we’ve tried to soak up every moment.”
NSU teammates have soaked up moments with the family’s new addition in gatherings at the couple’s house on the banks of Cane River Lake.
Socially distanced and wearing masks, players have watched Sterling but haven’t been able to hold him yet.
“This team has been so excited and supportive since we told them we were pregnant,” Anna Jobe said. “They’ve seen us go through every step, and now that he’s here, they’re anxious to hold him and be sisters of sorts.
“Their enthusiasm has been brought more enthusiasm to Jess and I. Having a child hasn’t changed us as coaches, but it’s reiterated the things we feel are important in our program. It’s brought hands and feet and a face to the things we do because it’s made the things we try to instill in our players way more personal. We get to start from the ground up in molding a human soul, and these girls have prepared me to be a parent.”
Watching a child’s development is similar to watching a team’s growth, explained Jess Jobe.
The 2019 Lady Demons went from barely crawling to sprinting toward a Southland Conference title in a matter of weeks.
Packed with 23 freshmen and sophomores, NSU exploded after an 0-5 start to finish 13-8-1 and second in league play (8-2-1).
The Lady Demons knocked off eventual champion Lamar and roared through the league tournament to the championship game before falling to the Cardinals, 3-1.
“We had a rough start, but we never stopped believing,” said Jess Jobe, who was named Louisiana co-head coaches of the year with Anna by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association after they guided the second-youngest team in the nation to the league title game. “It’s a tribute to the coaching staff that kept pushing to find solutions and combinations and a tribute to the players who kept believing that can we play meaningful games at the end of our season despite the 0-5 start.
“We grinded out the first win at Jackson State, and it wasn’t pretty or great. But we grabbed every little bit of momentum and kept running with it.”
The Lady Demons flashed their defensive capability, holding conference opponents to eight goals in 11 regular season games before pitching a pair of shutouts in the SLC Tournament to reach the title game.
The defense featured SLC Defensive Player of the Year Nicole Henry, Nicole’s twin sister and SLC first teamer Natalie Henry and third-teamer Hallie Field among others.
The Henrys are just juniors entering this season with Field as a sophomore, all in front of goalkeeper Acelya Aydogmus who will start her second season at NSU after transferring from Troy.
“Defense is the foundation of everything we do,” said Anna Jobe, who helped lead NSU to its fifth SLC Tournament title game but first since 2005. “Our offense comes from that structure, and the girls continue to buy into that.
“Our leaders on the team talk about that and developing an even stronger defense has been a point of focus this fall. It’s exciting to see these girls take an incredible experience from last year and continue to lead this team while educating the new ones coming in.”
Soccer will look different with a scheduled spring regular season.
But the coaching staff has stressed a regular-season intensity in fall practices, which will crank back up after Labor Day.
“The table is set for our 2020 season, which has been moved to 2021,” Jess Jobe said. “In some regard, we had an excuse last year of being young with not much postseason experience, but coming into this year, we’ve drawn from our experience.
“We talk to our players about assessing their role and working to increase that role within the team through hard work. But what was special about last year’s team is that everybody bought in to the point that, when it came time to perform their role in that moment, they did what was asked of them. We’re excited about what’s to come.”
And as the Lady Demons pursue a conference title, a young Sterling will be in the stands or on the sidelines, rolling around and grabbing for the nearest object he can find.