Holtzman, Illini zero in on goals

Holtzman, Illini zero in on goals

CHAMPAIGN – Ask Heidi Holtzman about the first goal of her collegiate soccer career, and she can run down a pretty detailed play by play. It came from about 18 yards out after a misplay and was volleyed into the lower left corner.
When you''re a four-year starter on defense, scoring chances are memorable. Given a chance to play up front in Illinois'' 6-0 win against Iowa State, Holtzman made it count.
It was a big joke between (Rebecca Johnson) and I, Holtzman said. We had a thing going to see who could score first before we graduated. I''ve had some great shots on goal, and I''ve been robbed. So it was my goal to get one, and I got it the first game of my senior year.
One thing you have to understand about Holtzman is when she sets goals, she accomplishes them. Holtzman, who has started 80 games in four years, has been an Academic All-American and already has a job lined up with General Electric after graduation.
If she can help the Illini beat Syracuse in Friday''s NCAA tournament opener, that will take another goal off her list.
She knows what she wants, said Johnson, a fellow defender and friend. She''s very organized and very determined.
That comes from her father, Lynn, a retired Air Force major. Holtzman – who was born in Augsburg, Germany, then moved to Florida and finally Lake Ridge, Va. – has a military title of her own, but it''s got nothing to do with the service.
Her teammates call her the Little General because she''s 5-foot-2 and commands the action from the back of the field. And she barks out orders constantly with a surprising volume.
You always know where Heidi is, Johnson said. You always hear her talking out there on the field. She''s talking to forwards and defenders. She''s encouraging people.
Holtzman said you have to be vocal as a captain.
I think by now the girls are used to it, Holtzman said. I''m sure the other forwards on the other team want me to shut up. But it''s different, more quiet, if I''m not out there.
Her play and leadership have been key for the Illini, who have juggled their lineup since the start of the season. When coach Tricia Taliaferro watched the film from the first Syracuse game this season, she noticed eight changes.
Those changes have hit the defense as hard as any. Returning starter Megan Kolze was lost for the season with a knee injury after playing two games. Her replacement, Emily Ward, got hurt in warmups before the Big Ten tournament semifinal, so freshman Andrea Ridgeway got her first shot at defense.
Having a leader in the back, someone who''s had the experience of playing tough games, she can be a positive influence, Taliaferro said of Holtzman. I think the key to the second half of the season has been Heidi.
The Illini had not allowed more than one goal in seven straight games before Sunday''s 2-1 overtime loss to Penn State. As always, Holtzman had to battle with much taller forwards like Penn State''s 5-10 Christie Welsh.
Holtzman, who was switched to defense in high school by her Olympic Development Team coaches, said you have to outsmart and outhustle bigger players.
She has a presence up there, Johnson said. She''s little, but her size might be deceiving. (On Sunday) she went for a header with Christie Welsh and got it.
Holtzman doesn''t shy away from bigger players or bigger teams. She''s excited about playing Syracuse, which has beaten Illinois the past two years, and would love a shot against No. 2 seed Santa Clara in the second round.
After its conference tournament run, the team also is excited about this weekend.
We''re playing our best soccer, and confidencewise it''s at its highest, Taliaferro said. We have an advantage because we played Syracuse before, so we know what to expect. It''s going to be a tough game.

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

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