UI freshman goalie making a soccer impact
CHAMPAIGN - The weather hasn't been much of a problem. And adjusting to college life has been a breeze, although practicing across the street from South Farms has been different.
Not much has fazed Leisha Alcia since coming to Illinois from Mississauga, Ontario - a suburb of Toronto - to begin her college soccer career.
"When I came in, I wasn't sure what to expect," the freshman said. "It was a big shock to get into the routine of training. I'm from the city, so the farms are kind of new to me. But I think it's gone pretty well."
Her coaches and teammates would agree. In her first week as Illinois' full-time starting goalkeeper, she won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors.
About halfway through the Illini's season, Alcia is one of six freshman making big contributions as the team begins a stretch of seven straight conference games. She's 5-4 with a 1.38 goals-against average to hold the edge in an ongoing competition with sophomore Sarah Anderson, who started for last year's NCAA tournament team.
"She started to separate herself in practice, and when she got her opportunities in games, I think she really started to emerge," UI coach Tricia Taliaferro said. "It's still a tight competition in practice. But it's one of those things where she's doing well in games.
"Her communication is something that gives the backs some confidence. She's earned the respect of her teammates, which is hard to do as a freshman."
The 5-foot-9 Alcia has great range, good positioning and can make highlight-reel saves.
"As a freshman, she's shown a lot of composure," teammate Sarah Rowland said. "We have confidence in her, and she's come out and proved no matter what age she is, she can play with any team."
If things work out, Alcia eventually will play for the Canadian national team. Alcia, who has played for the country's under-18, -19 and -20 teams, was the keeper for Ontario's provincial national championship team in 1999, and her club won national titles in 1997 and 2000.
"It's been a privilege to play for my country," Alcia said. "With the coaching I get here, and if I continue to improve, I can make the national team."
The Illini, who won Friday at Northwestern, meet Wisconsin today and need a win to keep pace with leaders Michigan and Penn State. If they can start burying some of those 22 shots a game and keep getting strong play from their freshman class, it should happen.
"Some of the freshmen have been a surprise," Taliaferro said. "You don't really expect your freshmen to come in and make an impact. But four are starting, and all six are getting playing time."