CHAMPAIGN – After a year away from home, Kelly Buszkiewicz was itching to get back to the Midwest.
Jillian Ellis just happened to be going that way.
Ellis was leaving the University of Virginia last spring to start up her very own Division I women's soccer program at the University of Illinois. The Wisconsin-born Buszkiewicz, one of Virginia's finest freshmen, wanted to come along for the ride.
Got any room, Coach?
"Oh yeah, I was ecstatic that she was even interested," Ellis said. "To get a player like that your first year is a real bonus."
The Illini will make their official Division I debut at 7 p.m. Tuesday when the St. Louis Billikens drop by for a visit, and Ellis is asking Buszkiewicz to do everything but grill burgers and hawk programs.
The sophomore midfielder's been called the "tent pole" and the "engine" by her coach, who's also counting on Buszkiewicz to play some Dear Abby.
"She's going to be the one that the rest of the players turn to, both on the field and off the field," Ellis said. "She can give them an understanding of what's expected and what it's going to take to compete at the Division I level."
Buszkiewicz, the only Illini with a Division I experience on her resume, knew what she was getting herself into when she signed up.
Ellis made sure of that.
"She told me this is a new program and it'll be hard coming from a Division I school," Buszkiewicz said.
Translation: Don't make any Final Four reservations. Not with 15 Division I veterans, including St. Louis, on the schedule.
"I don't think I'm going to measure the success of this team, but winning's very definitely important to me," said Buszkiewicz, who's done it all of her soccer life. "We're all looking for wins on this team, but if we don't get them right away, we'll look more at the improvement of this team and how we can build for next year. "Hopefully, I can help the program grow."
She's not much of a yakker but kind of likes the idea of showing the freshmen and former club players the NCAA ropes.
Buszkiewicz, who led Homestead High to the Wisconsin state title as a senior, could have returned to her home state school instead.
The Badgers, who've been around the NCAA block longer than any other Big Ten school, offered Buszkiewicz a chance to come back and play alongside many of her old club teammates.
Thanks, but no thanks.
"It would have been the logical choice, but it never really interested me," Buszkiewicz said. "I've been to Madison so many times since I was little, it's old to me. I wanted to try something new."
They don't come any newer than Illinois' program, which has all of one exhibition game under its belt.
That was last weekend's 2-1 victory over Illinois State, a.k.a. the Kelly Buszkiewicz Show. She put up all the Illini points, booting in one goal from about 30 yards out.
"I never know with goals," said Buszkiewicz, who kicked in four as a Virginia freshman. "I'm on one day, and I can't even shoot on the face of the goal the next."
It's probably bad news if she leads the Illini in scoring.
"Typically, you don't expect your midfielders to be your leading scorers," Ellis said. "Usually, it's the top players, who are closer to the goal. We're looking for her to create chances for her teammates and set plays for us.
"She's really the engine for this team."