UI's Brown taking soccer by storm statewide
CHAMPAIGN – The name's Emily. But you can call her "Elvis."
Just like the public address announcer at Illinois' soccer stadium, who spotted Emily Brown's high school nickname in the media guide and now won't leave it alone.
"My club coach gave it to me," Brown said. "We had three Emilys on the team, and he'd always call me 'E.' He said Elvis' best friends called him 'E.' So then he started calling me Elvis.
"Hopefully, it's not because I look like Elvis."
It's a fitting nickname, what with all the impersonators "Elvis" Brown has back home in the north suburbs. The 19-year-old Illinois sophomore is already a legend at Winnetka's New Trier High, where she still helps out with summer camps.
"I don't want to say 'idol,' but she's the person who kids up here try to be like," New Trier coach Jim Burnside said. "People around here know who she is. At New Trier, in the area. She's the model for what we want our players to be like."
As soccer role models go, they don't come much better than Brown, the only Illini with an Illinois high school Player of the Year trophy on her mantle, the only one whose name's high on the IHSA's all-time scoring list and the only one averaging a goal a game for Tricia Taliaferro's 5-1 team.
And if you can find a better athlete on the UI campus, her club coach would like to meet her.
"She's good at everything," said Derek Menard, coach of the Chicago Cobras. "She was a terrific high school basketball player. Started at point guard. Terrific golfer. She hits golf balls left- or right-handed. She can hit baseballs left- or right-handed. She throws like I do. And when they measured her vertical, it was (27) inches, which is just unheard of for a girl."
Burnside says she's quite a bowler, too.
"I bet she can curl," he said. "Nothing would surprise me."
Brown showed off her awesome athleticism in Sunday's 3-2 loss to 20th-ranked Missouri, heading in a pair of goals from tough angles.
The second one came with 1:02 left in regulation and forced overtime.
"Both goals were very good goals that very few players would finish," Missouri coach Bryan Blitz said. "And to do it in a pressure situation like that really shows what kind of talent she has."
Brown knows how to use her head, jumping up and knocking in 15 goals with her noggin as a high school junior and 11 as a senior.
"In the women's game, it's not very common to see someone that's so good up in the air," Taliaferro said. "Anytime a ball's played in the air and she's in the box, she has an opportunity to score. She's that dangerous."
Brown's two goals against Missouri gave her six this season, second in the Big Ten only to Iowa freshman Sarah Lynch's seven. Her super start this fall is no surprise to the folks back home, who watched her make like Pele as a prep.
Menard, who's seen all the state's finest and coached many of them through the years, considers her the top scorer ever to come out of Illinois.
"She gave us fits," said Joe Moreau, coach of four-time defending state champ St. Charles. "She saw the field so well. The thing I remember most is her vision. She'd make passes that other players didn't expect because she was so talented."
Brown scored 51 goals as a New Trier senior, the fourth-best single-season total in IHSA history, and 127 in her career, which ranks seventh all time.
She was recruited by just about everyone in the Big Ten, ultimately settling on Illinois because she thought the coaches were cool.
"That was the first thing that caught my eye," Brown said. "The coaches were friendly, and they knew their stuff, and they seemed like they would be fun, which they are."
One of them no longer is around, former head coach Jillian Ellis leaving in July for UCLA. But Taliaferro's still here – and still making good on her recruiting promise to feature Brown as the centerpiece in the Illini attack.
Last year, Brown finished tied for second in the league in scoring. This year, the center midfielder's right there again.
"We kind of sold her on the idea of it's a new program and we want to build around her," Taliaferro said. "That's something that she wanted to do."
Brown was introduced to the sport by a soccer-loving nanny when she was 5, and before you knew it, the whole family was hooked.
Her dad, a math teacher and cross-country coach in East Lansing, Mich., used to hate soccer but now drives down for all of his kid's home games and some of the away ones. Her big brother, Adam, plays at Cornell. And her twin sister, Molly, was a teammate at New Trier and Illinois before deciding to hang up her cleats this season.
Emily still rooms with Molly, whom she's often confused with on campus.
"Her professors will come up to me and start conversations about books I've never read," Emily said. "I'll be like, 'Yeah, that was great. Gotta go.' "
Soccer takes up a lot of her time and pays the tuition bills, but it's not Brown's whole life.
When she's not kicking a ball around, you usually can find her buried in a book her lawyer mother recommended or watching sports on TV. Brown's a big Bulls fan, though not as big as she used to be before Jerry Krause let her favorite athlete get away.
"I saw some interviews with him and really liked him," Brown said. "I mean, he's not the best player, obviously, but he tries really hard and doesn't mind doing the dirty work for the team. And he's really funny."
Her other favorite team had a rough return to the NFL on Sunday. But that won't keep the daughter of two Ohio natives from pulling for her Browns this fall.
"I grew up in the Dawg Pound," she said.