Entering the final couple months of her softball career at Florida Gulf Coast University, Ahnie Jumper admits that she “can see the finish line.”
Four years ago, the starting point in NCAA Division I softball looked a lot different for Jumper, whose role on the Eagles has ascended from pinch runner her freshman year to starting catcher as a junior and senior.
The blend of athletics and academics, which this year includes helping homeless people in Lee County through an internship, has served her well.
“The family and memories I created with traveling and being at the school and having so many resources open to me to succeed,” has meant a lot to her, she said.
Jumper, who is from the Big Cypress Reservation, hopes more memories are still to come as the team starts play in the Atlantic Sun Conference on Saturday at home in Fort Myers against Stetson (2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on YouTube Live). The games come on the one-year anniversary when the conference canceled last year’s season as the pandemic began to seize the nation.
With most of their non-conference schedule finished, the Eagles have shifted their focus to conference games.
“I think we’re better than in past years. We’re athletic, but I think we just need a little more chemistry together,” Jumper said.
This season FGCU was picked to finish third in the ASUN preseason coaches poll and received two of the nine first-place votes. It’s been nine years since FGCU last won the ASUN tournament and made its first and only appearance in the NCAA Division I tournament.
The Eagles have plenty of work to do before thinking about the postseason. They are 9-10. Being below .500 is a rare occurrence in the Dave Deiros era, which is to say the entire existence of the program. Deiros has been the head coach since day one in 2003. The Eagles have been a model of consistent success with only two sub-.500 seasons in nearly 20 years.
The 2021 edition started slowly with four losses in its first five games, including three to No. 21 University of Central Florida. FGCU’s victory column includes one-run wins against UCF and North Dakota and a two-game sweep against the University of Connecticut.
Two weeks ago FGCU dropped a pair of games to No. 15 Florida State in Tallahassee. As a Seminole facing a team named Seminoles, Jumper said there wasn’t any added significance for her in those games.
“They’re a solid softball team, but they’re just another team,” said Jumper, who caught both games and went 0-for-3 at the plate.
After the FSU games, Jumper notched one hit and one RBI each in consecutive wins against Florida A&M and South Dakota.
She is batting .200 in 10 at-bats.
FGCU has a few non-conference games remaining, including at home April 21 against No. 6 Florida. Senior Day will be April 25 against Jacksonville.
Off the field, Jumper changed her major to social work after being an early childhood education major. She’s getting first-hand experience in her field by working in an internship for Community Cooperative, a Fort Myers-based organization that helps homeless people and others in need. She’s involved in case management, meals on wheels and homeless services, all of which she said has been a positive experience.
“I like being a service to them. They’re a different population. I love working with them,” she said.
Although Jumper has an additional year remaining of playing eligibility due to last season being cut short, she said this season is her last. She is scheduled to graduate this spring. This summer and fall she plans to hit the road for tour rodeos as she tries to qualify for the Indian National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Indian Country’s biggest rodeo where she has competed in the past.
For now, she’s concentrating on completing her degree and helping the team find its groove.
“Currently we have a losing record. We’d like to change that,” she said.