Tenacity Bay Area
Stanford University ’20
You get the sense, talking to Jensen Neff, that she’s endlessly fascinated and inspired by the world and people around her. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the pictures on her photography website or watch her in the ceramic studio. Talk to her about the classes she’s going to take at Stanford University or the friends she’s made through Tenacity. Check out the tomatoes she’s planted at Novato High School, where she heads up Garden Club, or challenge her to a 1v1. Take note of the way her creativity infuses not only her artistic work, but her approach to athletics. Take note of her drive, of her belief that anything is possible. Or just talk to her. I think you’ll find yourself looking at the world a little differently.
You’re heading off to Stanford this fall. What are you most excited about?
Lacrosse is definitely a huge part of it! I chose the school equally for the sport and the academics. I’m excited to push myself to a new level and that’s something that we stress in the Tenacity program: it’s going to be so hard, but they’ve prepared us for it. I’m excited for everything to be challenging and new, and I’m really excited to be able to pick classes that inspire me. I’m already filling out the forms.
What kind of classes are you looking at? Do you know what you want to major in yet?
We’re not picking out classes yet, but we’re looking at pre-courses and doing the roommate stuff and meeting with advisors. At Stanford, you go in undeclared and that’s perfect for me because I’m someone who likes experimenting with a ton of different things and while I do have focuses in design and environment science and the humanities, I want to branch out as much as I can freshmen year. I don’t want to worry too much about classes going towards a specific major yet, and I don’t know what that major will be.
I love that idea of exploring and it seems to be in sync with how diverse your interests are! You identify yourself as a lacrosse player, but you also identify as a surfer, baker, artist, photographer and ukulele player. How do you balance all of that?
I’m someone who loves so many things and high school has definitely been a balancing act. For me, it’s been so nice having lacrosse as a constant, and then everything else on top of that. In terms of art, ceramics have totally been my thing over the past couple years. I’ve had more time senior year, without SAT’s and all that, but it’s been almost harder because I have to adjust to the feeling of being able to relax. I love always having something to do, so being busy definitely energizes me. The main thing I’ve realized is that I need to fit sleep in there too!
I think a lot of people think of sports and art in two different camps. How do you feel about that? Would you draw that distinction?
It makes me kind of sad that there’s this idea that if you’re an athlete, you can’t be an artist, or if you’re one type of character you can’t also be another. I encourage myself and everyone around me not to limit themselves. The competitive, lacrosse side of me is balanced out by the feeling of calmness and creativity that comes with art. I think that’s what high school does to a lot of people, tries to define them. You pick what you like and then you’re kind of viewed as that, but I think it’s fun and surprising and exciting to not just fall into a role that people expect.
You mentioned that you want to take environmental science classes at Stanford. Can you talk a little more about your interest in the environment?
I grew up in an environmentally aware family. My mom was my gardening teacher growing up – she taught gardening at my school from when I was in kindergarten through 8th grade. So my mom and my older sister and I have run Garden Club throughout high school. One of my biggest projects in high school was creating a mural on the garden wall. It was 72 feet long—just a huge project and so fun! And from there I started getting super interested in where art and the environment intersect. I’m working with my art teacher now on biomimicry stuff and I’m really interested in where we can draw inspiration from the forms in nature for design. But I’m totally an open book, so who knows? Next year I might be saying I’m an English major instead, but that’s what I’m interested in right now.
Was there a moment in your college process when you knew that Stanford was the right fit? Like an ah-ha! moment?
Well, my parents went to Stanford so ever since I was two years old I was absolutely in love with the school. I’d deck myself out for game days and go to tailgates there, and then once I hit 8th grade I was much more open minded. I looked at a lot of colleges, thought about east coast and everything, but Stanford was always in the back of my mind. Once I got an offer from them, everything in my body was like, “There’s no way I would ever regret this.” That’s kind of when I knew. There was just no comparison for me. It was my dream and I think I didn’t realize for a little while just how much that dream meant to me.
Highlights of this season? Any moment that stood out?
This year, we were the first west coast team to be named in the National Rankings and our team won our second NCS championship. It was especially cool because we had freshmen starting, sophomores starting, juniors and seniors starting—so it wasn’t a single class. The whole season, we kept in mind that we were doing it for the west coast. That was really what carried us through the season.
In terms of a moment: the final game. We went undefeated the whole season and when we got to the finals, we were playing a team we’d previously beaten 22 to 2. And it was the most intense game of my life. They played out of their minds. It was incredible. They were up by 3 goals in the second half and that was the first time we’d ever been down all season. Then at the very end, we were tied 12-12 or 13-13, and we had the ball down on offense. The ball was fumbling around and a sophomore on our team picked it up with an entire crowd of defenders around her and shot as the buzzer went off. The ball barely made it in. It was just the most intense lacrosse moment I’ve ever been part of.
Playing on a club team is so different from playing for a high school team. You’re only practicing together one or twice a week, so the way you build relationships on the team is different. Do you have thoughts on how that dynamic works with your Tenacity team?
I seriously can’t put into words how much my Tenacity team means to me. It started with the trust that was given to me by Theresa, by Schmidty and by Coach Richards. I was absolutely an underdog, probably shouldn’t have made a team at all, but they had so much faith in us as players. I’ve never felt more like a coach had faith in me and my potential. I think that carried on to our team environment as a whole. The recruiting process can be kind of crazy—it’s a time that gives people the option to be selfish—but on our team I never once felt like anyone was playing for themselves. Everyone was playing to make each other look good and that’s the whole ethos of BearLax [Tenacity] and I think that’s what allowed us to be so close.
You played on the Green team for three years before making the Blue team as a freshman. What advice would you have for a 7th grader who’s on the “B” team, who wants to play in the big leagues but is struggling to get there?
If there’s one piece of advice, it’s to let the position of the underdog empower you. I remember playing against one of the Blue teams at one point and we got so fired up because there was nothing to lose. You have to have the mindset of, “Let me prove to them what I can do.” Honestly, it’s so fun to use the underdog mindset as a way to get fired up. No matter how good you are, you can always keep a piece of that with you—the idea that there’s always something more to do, always another goal to work towards. You can be intimidated by the people who are better than you, or you can take it as a challenge.