The Howard Payne University women’s soccer season is underway and team captain Leslie Jones is bringing extra experience to the field after honing her skills in Italy this summer.

The senior from Mesquite and other college women from across the U.S. traveled to Italy through American International Sports Teams. AIST invited Jones after reviewing her stats throughout her career at HPU. She was also invited in 2011, but was unable to go.

“I wasn’t expecting to be invited again,” she said. “It was a really great opportunity and a dream come true.”

Even as a child, Jones said, she thought about advancing her soccer career.

“I played my first game when I was 4,” she said. “I always wanted to play at higher and higher levels. It was amazing to be put with a group to represent the U.S. internationally.”

The group was in Italy for 10 days, touring and playing exhibition games in locations such as Rome, Milan, Tuscany and San Marino. They also had the opportunity to visit the headquarters and training center of the Italian National Team, where the Americans trained with the best Italian coaches.

“It was like a dream to be coached by someone at that level,” Jones said.

Jones has had an impressive career in her time with the Lady Jackets. She has been named 1st Team All-Conference all three years, as well as 2nd Team All-Region in 2011. In 2010 and 2011, she was second and third respectively in the American Southwest Conference for the most goals scored. In 2010, she broke the record for the fastest hat-trick in conference history, scoring an impressive three goals within a two-minute span. In addition, she has been recognized for her academic achievements and named Academic All-Conference.

“My team is really important to me,” she said. “I couldn’t score without the rest of the team. You can’t win without the goalkeeper or the defense.”

This is the final season for Jones, who will graduate in December.

“It’s going to be really strange to leave,” she said. “When you’re here for four years and you work really hard for your team, it’s hard to leave.”