The eighth commandment admonishes us: “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” but try telling that to Pt. Loma Nazarene University basketball standout Jessica Mercado. For the second year in a row, this talented former four-time San Diego High School MVP ranks at the top of the statistics nationally in the steals category. Mercado’s courtside larceny is a major reason that the Sea Lions (17-2, 7-2 as of Jan. 22) are ranked seventh in the nation and expect to progress deep into the upcoming postseason NAIA playoffs.
“Jessica brings her extremely competitive nature to our program,” said PLNU coach Bill Westphal. “She has a little bit of street ball in her growing up where she did, and we need that kind of toughness in our program. We play a trap zone and she causes some major problems for our opponents. Jessica has great anticipation and she is often able to disrupt the other team’s offense.”
Offensively, she is nearly as dominant. Mercado is once again the Sea Lions’ leading scorer. She is averaging nearly 18 points per game, but this season she has added a new dimension to her arsenal. Mercado has developed into a lethal outside shooter. Still, that is not her forte.
“Offensively, she excels because of her quickness at slashing and driving,” Westphal added. When it comes to basketball, Mercado is the complete package. The same could not be said however, of her life before she enrolled at PLNU.
“When I was in high school I didn’t have any idea what I was going to do with my life,” said the Sea Lions second team All-American guard. “I didn’t know if I would be going to college or just working. It has been a blessing being here at Pt. Loma Nazarene. I’ve been blessed in two ways, at first just by playing on this team, but then by being saved.”
As a youth Mercado enjoyed the athletic ability that God bestowed upon her, but she rarely took the time to give Him thanks and praise.
“Before I came here, I didn’t go to church and I wasn’t really a Christian,” Mercado admitted. “I was saved during my freshman year here with my coach. There is a great Christian environment here filled with people who care. I like the Christian atmosphere on and off the court. Everyone is friendly and everyone is welcomed in.”
Having battled beside several of her teammates for the last four years, they have become a very tight-knit group. Despite their demanding schedule of training, playing, traveling and studying, Mercado and her teammates set aside blocks of time and devote them to Bible study.
“Often we get together before practice for Bible study,” Mercado said. “Last semester we met three times a week. We also sometimes attend services together.” Having only become a true Christian in the last few years, Mercado is in a position to learn from the many long-established Christians on her team.
There is also a certain excitement for her in finding new inspirational passages in the Bible. One that she discovered while reading recently is found in Psalm 139: 23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Appreciative now of all that God has given her, Mercado likes to try to give something back. Last semester she volunteered at the Salvation Army’s downtown location helping to feed the many homeless people there.
“It was something that I always thought about doing, but I could never find the time. Last semester, I was able to fit it into my schedule. Doing that certainly helped me to appreciate all that I have. That was a great experience,” she said.
Mercado hopes to extend her basketball career by playing internationally one day for the Dominican Republic’s national team. Eligible by virtue of the fact that her parents were both born there, Mercado has already played club basketball on the island and drawn the attention of those in charge of the national team. Having seen the poverty some of her relatives are confronting, Mercado would like to return to the Dominican Republic after her May graduation. While she is playing basketball there she intends to do what she can to help. Mercado is proud to be the first person from her family to ever earn a college degree and thankful to Pt. Loma Nazarene for giving her that opportunity.