ZEELAND — Jaqi Bocanegra transformed herself into a lockdown defender.


It helped the Zeeland East girls soccer team to the best season in school history, and also helped ensure Bocanegra’s future.


Bocanegra committed to continue her soccer career at Muskegon Community College.


“I started communication with the coach there when some of my teammates committed. It branched out from there,” Bocanegra said. “Coach was keeping up with me as far as athletics and academics, so I felt like he cared about be beyond soccer. I went for a visit and I loved it. I knew some girls there, but everyone was super welcoming. I can tell that they are a personal group. That is the kind of connection you need.”


It is the kind of connection the Chix have had the past few seasons. It is no surprise she found it with the Jayhawks as well since MCC has had several Zeeland players on the team the past few years.


Bocanegra is looking forward to playing with Lia Maggini, who will return to MCC for her sophomore season in the fall.


“It is the best chance ever. Lia and I became really close coming up through club and playing together for so long,” Bocanegra said. “We just have a really good connection. It just takes a head nod to know where she wants the ball.”


That intuition is something Bocanegra has picked up during her years playing soccer. It was a big factor in her becoming an all-conference lockdown defender last year.


“My confidence to move with the ball and be able to know that I got this. Once I got comfortable with the ball and communication started to build, I wanted to keep moving and help lead runs with the ball,” she said. “There were some intense moments and moments where we came back to reality, but we were making school history. A couple of years ago, people weren’t worried about playing Zeeland East. Becoming that competitive team was huge.”


It showed as she earned all-district honors as well, helping the Chix to the regional final.


“Jaqi is tough as nails and is a great defender,” Zeeland East coach Joe Grit said. “She doesn’t back down from a challenge and is also a good distributor of the ball. Jaqi constantly disrupted the opposing team in transition.”


Now, she is taking that lockdown to the college ranks.


“To me, it is the biggest lift in the world. I don’t know where I would be without hearing that support. My family has always supported me, but seeing that confidence that my team had in me was amazing,” she said. “Being able to play at the next level will be so much sweeter.”


She saw as former teammate Savana Driesenga starred at MCC, leading the Jayhawks to a regional title before transferring to Northern Michigan, an NCAA Division II program.


“It is inspiring to see so many of the girls move up to college and continue to move up,” Bocanegra said. “It makes me want to work so much harder. I reached out to Savana and told her how proud of her I was. She was a big reason why I wanted to continue to play at the next level. I can’t wait to be at that level. “


— Contact Sports Editor Dan D'Addona at Dan.D'Addona@hollandsentinel.com or 616-546-4276. Follow him on Twitter @DanDAddona and Facebook @Holland Sentinel Sports.