A passion passed down

USF women’s soccer senior Jordyn Listro inherited her love of soccer from her grandfather and continues to remember him through her play on the pitch. PHOTOS COURTESY OF PATRICIA LISTRO

Senior USF defender Jordyn Listro is borderline fanatical when it comes to her dedication to the game of soccer.

At age 5, she began her journey as a member of the Wexford Soccer Club in her home province of Toronto, Canada. 

Her love of the game was sparked even before she was able to dribble the ball or win a header.It started with family — in particular with her maternal grandfather, Ross Borgh, whom she called “No-Nno,” an Italian nickname.

Her attachment to the sport was in no small part due to her unique relationship with the small, Italian man who instilled in his granddaughter a love of not only the sport, but of her Italian heritage as well. 

“All of my grandparents are from Italy and soccer is huge there,” Listro said. “So every time I’d go to his house, he’d have the professional Italian league on and we’d just watch and talk. 

“Whenever Italy plays in the World Cup, it’s just a really big deal for my family. He loved the game, and he loved being a part of my journey.”

The love of “the beautiful game” that was imported from Italy to Toronto and passed from grandfather to granddaughter only served to strengthen their bond once Listro grew serious about the sport and began playing consistently in increasingly competitive circuits.

She largely credits the competitive nature of the provincial soccer programs in Canada for elevating the passion and aggressiveness with which she approaches the sport. 

She even started playing hockey after her father, John, and her coaches said she had to disregard her tendency for gentleness for others if she wanted to take the next step toward her soccer-related goals.

“I was more of a finesse player, and actually my parents used to get mad at me because I used to be a forward and I wouldn’t tackle the goalie when I came close to scoring a goal,” she said. “(The provincial program) was a very competitive environment, so you either competed or you were getting cut. So I knew I had to change my mentality, and my coaches drilled it in my head that I needed to be physical or I wasn’t going to make it further.”

Encouraging her all along her path was her No-Nno, who lived only a few minutes away from the family, with Listro insisting that they stop by his house on a near daily basis so she could give him the long embrace that was so indicative of the “special bond” her mother Patricia said the two shared.

“He was at every high school game, most of — if not all — of my club soccer games,” Listro said. “As much as he could, he was there.”

Patricia remembers fondly her father attending each and every one of those soccer games, proudly — and loudly — saying, “that’s my granddaughter” any time Listro would score a goal or make a play.

Though blood was the unbreakable bond that initially brought them together, soccer served as the ever-present glue that gave Listro and her No-Nno even more reason to gather, chat and grow close.

As Listro was in the running for a spot on Canada’s U-17 World Cup team, which was set to compete in Azerbaijan beginning in September 2012, it seemed a given that her grandfather would be watching, one-way or another.

So, when Borgh was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer and given only months to live just before the U-17 World Cup was to start, the family was devastated. 

Despite being distraught upon hearing the diagnosis, Listro did not drop out of the competition or even show many signs that the man who had helped propel her to the World Cup-level athlete she was, would possibly not make it to see her play on the grandest stage of her career.

He would not live to see her compete in Azerbaijan, as he passed away at the age of 83.

According to Patricia, Listro held her grandfather as long as she could, even after he had let out his last breath, spending every possible moment, gripping the man who had brought her so much joy and largely introduced her to the sport that would come to define much of her young life.

“Right when (his passing) happened, I knew that he would want me to obviously pursue the dream that I was chasing for a while,” Listro said. “Obviously I was devastated, my whole family was devastated, but I just knew that is what he would want me to do, so I just kept my emotions in tact as best as I could.”

Still, she admits that playing in the U-17 World Cup with such a heavy heart was far from easy.

“There were times when it was very hard and I knew that … I wish it was different. I wish he was still here for this (World Cup), but I just tried my best to (keep on),” Listro said.

Still, she had a constant reminder of her beloved grandfather — a pair of his sandals that she wore during her time in Azerbaijan — a pair of her No-Nno’s footies that, according to her mother, fit the similarly sized Jordyn as if she had picked them out from the store herself.

Listro’s mother describes her oldest daughter quite simply, and this sentiment is echoed by her coaches and teammates. 

“She’s very kind, responsible, hard-working for sure, and one that has always cared about others,” Patricia said.

Specifically, she remembers catching an early glimpse of her daughter’s selfless nature when she observed her interaction with others during a pick up game on the playground.

“A girl wanted to play with them, and one girl told her that she couldn’t,” Patricia said. “Jordyn said, ‘If she can’t play, then I won’t either.’” 

As she began her career with the Bulls, she kept mementos of her grandfather as daily inspiration and reminders of all the life-lessons he had imparted upon her.

“He had cancer, and seeing him struggle and try and overcome while being strong about it inspired me so much,” Listro said. “So I keep a bunch of pictures of him in my room and bathroom and in my locker and I just sometimes glance at them and I’m like, ‘OK, I’m doing this for him.’”

One of those precious reminders is a Build-a-Bear, which features a recording of Borgh’s voice saying, “I love you, Jordyn” that she keeps to this day.

During her four years at USF, Listro has played in at least 20 games each season, starting all 22 as a midfielder for the Bulls in 2015. 

Part of that constant sense of self-improvement meant involving more weight-intensive drills to her already cardio-heavy workout routines.

“Coming into USF, I wasn’t big on lifting, I was big on running,” she recalls. “My cardio has always been there but when I was introduced to lifting I love [it], I love eating healthy, so I’ve kind of adopted that type of lifestyle.”

The strong, silent demeanor that helped Listro endure the loss of her grandfather has not gone unnoticed by her USF coaches and teammates.

In particular, her transformation from a finesse forward into the aggressive defensive stopper of the team has garnered the admiration of her teammates, with fellow Canadian Leticia Skeete witnessing this evolution first-hand.

“I’ve known Jordyn since she was fourteen, and she’s definitely evolved as a player,” Skeete said. “Now she brings her technical finesse on the ball as well as her demand to be the hardest player on the field, which is awesome because if she’s not that (intense), we don’t win games.” 

That hardened style of play Skeete attests to is evident every time 5-foot-6 Listro makes an aggressive tackle or goes up for a contested header with fearlessness-bordering-on-reckless abandon.

“I like to make a tackle early because I feel like it sets the tone for the game,” Listro said. “It helps the players around me … realize that this is the college level and you do need to be physical if you’re playing college soccer, so I hope that I can impact the players around me to be just as physical, and I think we’re doing a great job of it already.”

The young Canadian, who insisted her parents bring her to games an hour early to get mentally and physically prepared, has brought that work ethic to the Bulls for four years. With such a freshman-laden roster, her tendency to lead by example — as well as her mental and physical fortitude — has become invaluable to USF.

“There’s never a moment where I look and think, ‘Jordyn isn’t working hard,’” Skeete said. “She’s always putting in 100 percent, which everyone can look up to and say, ‘If Jordyn’s working that hard, if she’s playing 90 minutes almost every game, then I can do it too.’”

Aside from setting the tone for the defense and team as a whole, Listro has recorded 44 shots on goal, 2 assists, and 63 total games in her first three years as a Bull, remaining a reliable and tenacious force that made an instant impact as a freshman. 

One for constant self-evaluation, she has put ample time and effort into her progression as a player and leader, with greater ambitions beyond her achievements at USF and as a member of the U-17 Canadian World Cup team.

“If the Canada (National Team) doesn’t work out for me, I still have hopes of playing for the Italian National team, having somewhat dual-citizenship,” she said.