Jibberish and fancy footwork
CHAMPAIGN – Her fancy footwork and sharp shooting aren't the only things Jillian Ellis digs about Lisa Baldwin.
"I wanted to get someone out here with a stranger accent than mine,' " said Ellis, Illinois' England-born women's soccer coach. "Alleviates some of my pressure."
After two years of searching, Ellis is pretty sure she's found someone.
You think Theresa Grentz talks funny?
Wait till you hear Lisa Bawldwin from Lawng Island, New Yawk, tawk.
"Oh my gosh," Ellis said. "She says, 'Gimme the bawl.' 'Cawfee.' She's hardcore."
Oh yeah, look who's talking.
"Jill's definitely got a worse accent," Baldwin said. "She's got a mix of all different kinds of stuff in there. It's jibberish."
That's no way for a freshman to be talking about her coach. But Baldwin, second in the Big Ten with eight goals, is no ordinary freshman. And the 32-year-old Ellis, who's been known to pal around with her players off the field, is no ordinary coach.
The two of them have become tighter than a couple of sorority sisters, e-mailing each other, talking about what they miss most about the East Coast (For Ellis, who spent nine years coaching in the ACC, it's the bagels), and going at it in a game of "Jurassic Park" at the arcade.
"All the freshmen are a little bit homesick," Ellis said. "Last week, she was kind of having a rough day, so we went out and played video games that night. And last night, she called and said, 'Can we go shoot dinosaurs tomorrow.' "
If she's half as good a shot at the video games as she is on the field, T. Rex & Co. don't stand a chance.
Baldwin wasn't the most highly recruited Illini, but she's been among the most productive.
Seven games into her college career, she's already tied Sarah Aberle's single-season school record for goals.
Baldwin knocked in three in last week's Big Ten opener at Ohio State. That's half of the UI's team total last season in Big Ten action.
Can you say, Freshman of the Year?
"She's tearing it up," Ellis said. "I think she's definitely going to be one of the top freshmen in the Big Ten."
A coaching friend in Virginia clued Ellis into Baldwin, a member of Lindenhurst High's athletic Hall of Fame.
She was looking at North Carolina-Charlotte and Long Island's Adelphi University before Ellis showed up at the door.
That's when she met the head of the household, Artie Baldwin, who wasn't too keen about his kid going to college so far away. He's come around since, often overnighting Ellis some of those yummy bagels she misses so much.
"He's like, 'I don't know about the Midwest, with all those cows and corn,' " Ellis said. "I said, 'Well, we'll see.' She came out for a visit and really liked it."
Especially the part about helping a new program get off its feet.
"I liked the idea of coming to a program and seeing what a whole bunch of new people can do," Baldwin said.
Ellis has a whole bunch of fine freshman, starting six in her lineup: Baldwin, midfielders Emily Brown and Lindsay Johnson, and defenders Debbie Liang, Rebecca Patrick and Heidi Holtzman.
Last weekend, they hung tough against Penn State, which shot up to sixth in the nation with a 3-2 come-from-behind win in Champaign.
Nittany Lions coach Pat Farmer, who got ejected, wrote Ellis a nice note this week, letting her know what he thought of her team.
It's not one he wants to see again anytime soon.
"The way the Penn State players celebrated after the game, you would have thought they'd won the Big Ten," Ellis said. "That's a great tribute to our team."