UI picks coach for new women''s soccer team

UI picks coach for new women''s soccer team

   CHAMPAIGN  Growing up in soccer-crazy England had little to do with Jillian Ellis'' development into an All-American player.

   It took a move to the United States at age 15 to bring out those dormant soccer skills.

   "Over there, women''s soccer isn''t too prevalent," Ellis said Thursday after being named head coach of the University of Illinois'' new women''s soccer program. "They have a national team, but young women do not have an opportunity to play there.

   "It''s considered very unladylike over there. It''s kind of like it''s a man''s sport there."

   No such chauvinism in the States, Ellis would find.

   "When I came to this country is when I really started to get into organized soccer, and my love of it took off from there," the native of Portsmouth, England, said.

   That fervor led to a four-year career at the College of William & Mary, where Ellis was selected to the All-America third team in 1987. It also led to seven years as an assistant coach at three Atlantic Coast Conference schools, most recently at Virginia.

   And now, it has led this daughter of a longtime soccer coach to the Midwest for her first head-coaching position.

   "It''s going to be a challenge," the 30-year-old Ellis said of building a team that will make its debut this fall. "But I think everything is in place. If it wasn''t, I would haven''t have accepted the job."

   By "everything," Ellis was referring to administrative support, financial backing and facilities. She''ll have 12 scholarships, the maximum allowed by the NCAA, each season. And the school has arranged for the team to practice at its intramural fields and to play on a field that will be lined out inside the track at the UI Outdoor Track Stadium.

   But the players? The schedule? The coaching staff? Those are up to Ellis. And time''s a wasting in lining up a team, what with the national letter of intent period for women''s soccer beginning Wednesday.

   "I wouldn''t be honest if I didn''t say I was behind a little bit," Ellis conceded.

   Ellis promised to dig right in on recruiting and hope for the best this time around.

   "I think there''s a lot of talent out there that, A, hasn''t made a decision and, B, they may be undiscovered," she said. "So I''m going to be pretty aggressive."

   However, Ellis says, the core of her first team undoubtedly will come from talent already on campus. Specifically, that means tapping into the UI women''s club team, which last fall won a regional title in the national club tournament.

   "They obviously will be the grass roots and the beginning of this program," said Ellis, who indicated that most collegiate rosters number from 23-25. "It''ll be a transition for them. But, to me, they''ve demonstrated they''re already fairly committed (to the sport) or else they wouldn''t have followed through."

   Given time, Ellis is confident she can mine the talent she says abounds in this part of the country. Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis will be priority areas.

   "I know this region fairly well, and it''s deep in talent," she said. "Chicago is strong, but I think the whole state of Illinois has players emerging."

   And the UI''s academic reputation should make attracting them easier, Ellis says.

   "I know there''s a lot of interest in this program," she said. "There''s already a stack of letters from people interested in coming to the University of Illinois and playing."

   Ellis'' own interest in the sport comes naturally. Her father, John Ellis, has been director of the Soccer Academy in Manassas, Va., since 1984. Before that, he helped develop soccer programs worldwide as a member of the Royal Marines. In fact, Jillian lived in Singapore for two years while her father helped build that country''s national soccer program.

   And Jillian''s brother Paul, a back yard soccer opponent while they were growing up, currently is assistant women''s soccer coach at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

   "It''s in the blood, I think," Jillian said.

   The UI last added a sport to its varsity intercollegiate program in 1977, when women''s cross-country was promoted from the club ranks.

   Illinois becomes the ninth member of the Big Ten Conference to field a varsity women''s soccer team. Iowa and Purdue now are the only league members without teams.

   According to an NCAA spokesman, 689 of its 994 members play women''s soccer. That includes 211 teams in Division I.

Sections (3):Illini Sports, Sports, Soccer
Categories (3):Illini Sports, Soccer, Sports

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