By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Communications
Annika Jansa is one of the most important players on the Lehigh women's soccer team, and arguably the entire Patriot League, but hasn't received even close to the recognition she deserves.
It's a fact she has more than accepted…
It's something Annika has embraced.
"I feel like my whole life – in academics and in soccer – I've been under the radar," she said. "Rather than external gratification, my motivation has come from an internal place. I want to compete with myself, do what makes me happy and see how far I can stretch myself. I believe that was engrained by my parents, and has become the nature of my personality."
Even though she is currently the Mountain Hawks' lone captain, Jansa is an introvert. That doesn't matter, however, as leaders come in all forms.
"I think about things a lot, including how I can put myself in a better position to be successful in whatever aspect of my life that may be," she said. "It leads to motivation."
Part of the reason Jansa has never been named All-Patriot League (… yet) is because she has played all over the field and not always put up statistics. Her sophomore year, Jansa led the Mountain Hawks with five goals and 12 points (including four-game winning goals), but even that wasn't enough to land postseason honors.
Awards aren't what determines Jansa's worth. She is about team, and winning. An important component is versatility, which for Annika, began in high school.
"In club, I started off as an outside back then moved into holding midfield and played there for a while, then returned to the back," said Jansa. "My coach thought outside back was my best position because I could get on the attack and defend at the same time. I stuck there for a while and also played attacking midfield in high school.
"But I knew I was getting recruited by colleges primarily for a defensive role, because that's where I played the most competitive games."
Jansa adjusted quickly to Lehigh because of the great competition she had already faced before college. As a freshman, she started all 18 games for the Mountain Hawks at outside back, part of a defense that began the season with eight straight shutouts.
"Then sophomore year, I played midfield. I was all around the field last year and this year, I've established myself at center back," said Jansa. "It's somewhere I never thought I would have played if you asked me during recruitment.
"But in the end, it's about being adaptable and that identity has stuck with me throughout my experience."
Jansa's Lehigh experience has seen her play in 67-of-68 games so far, starting all of them. Along the way, she has been one of the Mountain Hawks' most valuable players every year for a multitude of reasons.
"Annika's high soccer IQ allows her to be very versatile in her positioning on the field," said Lehigh head coach Eric Lambinus. "She just reads the game so well that she makes the game look so easy. She can move from position-to-position and know exactly how to play it. It is actually the reason I believe she goes unnoticed to people outside the program. It's also not that common in the way soccer players are trained growing up.
"Just like specialization by sport, we have seen too much specialization at the younger ages in soccer," Lambinus continued. "I'm glad her coaches moved her around when she was younger because it allowed her to become the player she is today.
"Honestly, technically and tactically, Annika is one of the best players I have ever coached."
Entering the 2019 season, Lambinus moved Jansa to center back and she's thrived.
"We always thought Annika would be a great center back because she has all the necessary traits for the position – she is a great 1v1 defender, has next-level understanding of the shape and best of all, she is a midfielder by nature so her distribution is outstanding," said Lambinus. "Our decision to move her to center back was actually out of necessity last year in a must-win game against Holy Cross. We were down 1-0 and needed to solidify our shape. We just did it on a hunch and it really opened up our play for that game and the rest of the season."
Jansa stepped into a challenging situation at Holy Cross and helped the Mountain Hawks to success, a 2-1 win to clinch a Patriot League Tournament berth, on the way to a championship-game appearance.
Beyond soccer, Jansa has enjoyed plenty of success, including in the classroom. Owning a cumulative GPA over 3.80, she has put herself in a strong position to succeed in life after Lehigh. Last month, it led to a job offer – and acceptance – at Macquarie, a company where she interned this past summer in commodities and global markets.
"It was the morning before our Friday night game against UMBC and I found out after practice Thursday night that I had to go into the city the next morning for four interviews at 9 a.m.," said Jansa. "I woke up at 5:50, drove in and they actually let me know the good news right before our game."
Jansa's full-time position was in the same company (Macquarie), but a different area – debt capital markets in the investment banking division.
During the summer, Jansa's internship was in sales and trading at Macquarie. She enjoyed the experience and was actually offered a full-time position in that role, but turned it down.
"I wasn't fully satisfied with the position and rather than just accepting it, I forced myself to decline it and go through the process again," said Jansa. "It ended up working out, but I believe it's an example of how I made it a little harder on myself. At the same time, it's a really important quality that's made me successful.
"Don't just settle on something that may be easy."
The concept of not settling comes into play in sports all the time. Often, the best thing to do – the thing that will lead to long-term success – isn't easy in the moment.
It was anything but easy for Jansa to turn down a full-time job offer, but she had made such an impact on Macquarie, that it led to a different position within the company anyway.
"I realized what I wanted in a full-time position was something analytical, verbal and something that challenged my communication skills," said Jansa. "A lot of what I'll will be doing is excel modeling, creating pitch presentations and that sort of thing for clients.
"I love the company so wanted to stay within it, but thought the position didn't match my personality and work style as much as I was hoping. It was still a great foundation for where I am now."
Now, Jansa can enjoy the rest of her senior year as part of a strong Lehigh women's soccer culture.
The Mountain Hawks' culture is strong due in large part to a leader like Jansa at the top, who is a tremendous example for the program's core principles: tough, hard-working, cohesive and purposeful.
"I don't even think about awards," she said. "Being on the team – regardless of your role and regardless of the awards you're getting – is most important and we shouldn't be focused on external factors to determine our worth."
As they say, actions speak louder than words (or awards). Jansa lets her actions speak for themselves.
"Coach said I've earned the right to say whatever I want as a leader," she said. "It's because people respect me, and because I have credibility of being consistent, hard-working and successful in different areas."
Flash back several years and without one gesture from Coach Lambinus, all this may not have ever happened.
"When it became allowed for coaches to reach out to players in recruiting, I got a hand-written letter from Lehigh which meant a lot," said Jansa.
"I have to thank our former assistant coach Amy Hough for the letter to Annika," said Lambinus. "We were working with some of the other coaches at Lehigh about 'standing out' in the recruiting process and she thought the hand-written letters would make a difference with the right recruits. We saw Annika play on her club team with Clare Severe and thought she would be perfect for our program.
"Considering Annika has had such an impact on the program, it tells us that the she was the absolute right recruit."