Kolze is Illini''s senior soccer staffer
CHAMPAIGN – In the middle of the Illinois soccer team''s media guide, there''s a section called "scrapbook." It''s a collection of photos mostly taken away from the field showing players bonding on the beach or posing in what you hope are Halloween costumes.
And Meghan Kolze is in every single picture.
"She''s a huge part of this team," Kelly Walker said. "Everybody wants her to be around."
In reality, the fifth-year senior has been around longer than anybody in the 7-year-old soccer program. She was recruited by Jillian Ellis, then played for Tricia Taliaferro and Janet Rayfield, and she''s seen the Illini go from fledgling program to Big Ten champion.
When she steps on the field for Friday night''s NCAA tournament game with Western Michigan, Kolze will play in her 87th game, which is a school record. Heck, she''s been in 60 percent of the games Illinois has played all time.
"I don''t feel too old, but I try to look after the younger ones sometimes," Kolze said. "I wouldn''t say they look to me because I''m the older one. It''s probably more because we''re closer than they might be with someone else."
Kolze just has a magnetic personality. The team captain earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for directing the conference''s best defense, but her work off the field is just as important.
"On the field she''s a vocal leader in terms of organizing our defense and being a voice of security," Rayfield said. "When the rest of the team hears her voice, they know somebody''s got things under control. And she''s an emotional leader. To see her succeed, that brings an emotional energy level as well."
That voice is distinct and pretty loud, say her teammates. They fondly call her everything from "crack-up" to "goofball."
On a team full of characters, senior Tiffani Walker said Kolze stands out.
"She''ll always keep you laughing," Tiffani Walker said.
She does that by cracking jokes or modifying and then spouting off movies lines from "Sixteen Candles" or "Rudy" with her partner in crime, Kelly Walker.
"We have our fun just like the young kids, and we''re big dorks," Kolze said.
Rayfield said all great teams have players like Kolze, who know how to lead in games and in the locker room. She loves to talk, but Kolze also listens closely.
That can make a difference on a team with 24 women from different areas and backgrounds.
"She does stand out," Kelly Walker said. "There are a lot of different personalities on this team, but the reason we''re so close is everybody understands everybody else''s personality. Even though we''re all so different, we come together and understand each other''s jokes, help out with problems. If we didn''t have different personalities, I think we''d kill each other."
Kolze was set for a killer season in 2001. She started every game her sophomore year and was starting again when she injured her knee two games into the season.
Kolze had to take a medical redshirt and missed the rest of the season. Through it all, Kelly Walker said, Kolze never complained or sulked.
"You still are a huge part of the team, and you lead in other ways," Kolze said. "It was difficult, but I learned so much about the game and the people around me. You have to take a positive perspective about things. If you''re negative about it, it''s going to make the season really long and you''re going to be frustrated."
Kolze said she''s now glad that injury happened so she could be a part of Illinois'' best season to date. The Illini set a record for wins, notched their first Big Ten tournament title and will host NCAA games.
Playing with sophomores Christen Karniski and Kelly Campbell, who recently was named to Soccer America and Soccer Buzz''s teams of the week, Kolze was a major part of the nation''s fourth-ranked defense.
"She''s definitely the leader in the back," Campbell said. "She communicates the whole game. Outside of soccer, she''s an outgoing person. She''s just an easy person to talk to. She''ll talk to anyone about anything. She''s real comforting."
Leadership is not always a natural quality, Rayfield said. And Kolze has worked her way into a captain''s role.
"If you ask most of the freshmen, they''ll tell you she''s the one they fear the most when they get here and love the most when they leave," Rayfield said. "She''s got a great personality because she''s honest. She''ll tell you exactly how she feels."
Rayfield said Kolze has the ability to "demand things from people" in a way that''s caring. Those qualities should pay off when Kolze graduates and begins teaching elementary students.
"I just love kids," Kolze said. "I couldn''t imagine sitting behind a desk all day not interacting with anybody else except my co-workers. Being around kids and learning and growing with kids is awesome. They make the time so much fun. It''s not even a job."
Kolze, a three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, said she would love to stay involved in soccer or basketball – she was a three-year starter for Lake Zurich teams that won a pair of sectional titles in hoops. Kolze knows her final game is a loss away, but she''s excited about the chance to make more history.
"I will be upset about it," Kolze said of ending her career. "But I can''t be upset about the way things have gone. If I were to write a script for how the season would have gone, it couldn''t have gotten any better than this, except for winning the Big Ten outright. It''s been an awesome season."
NCAA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW
Friday at Illinois Soccer Stadium
DePaul vs. Purdue, 4 p.m.
DePaul Blue Demons (14-6-2)
Coach: John Wilson (33-40-4)
Who to watch: Julianne Sitch, midfielder; Lindsey Deason, goalkeeper; Lauren Spacht, forward; Erin Walter, midfielder.
Outlook: The Blue Demons will make their NCAA tourney debut after beating St. Louis University in a shootout for the conference tournament championship. DePaul was ranked ninth in a Conference USA preseason poll and entered the league tournament as the sixth seed. Sitch was the conference''s Offensive Player of the Year and was tournament MVP. She has 12 goals and seven assists and is already the school''s career leader in goals as a sophomore. Deason was the tournament''s defensive MVP and has seven shutouts this season.
Purdue Boilermakers (12-5-3)
Coach: Robert Klatte (116-93-15)
Who to watch: Annette Kent, forward; Lauren Sesselmann, forward; Mary Masck, defender; Lauren Mason, goalkeeper.
Outlook: The Boilermakers are making their second straight trip to the NCAA tournament. They reached the second round before losing to Notre Dame last year. Purdue climbed as high as 14th in the NSCAA/adidas poll but slipped out of the rankings in the season''s final month. Sesselmann (nine goals, six assists) and Kent (eight goals, six assists) both made the All-Big Ten first team at forward. Kent is the school''s all-time leading scorer, and Mason''s 0.83 goals-against average ranked third in the conference.
Western Michigan vs. Illinois, 7:30 p.m.
Western Michigan Broncos (13-7-1)
Coach: Mike Haines (86-59-10)
Who to watch: Chantal Robinson, defender; Jessica Pattison, forward; Megan Urbats, forward; Katie Perz, goalkeeper; Michelle Palazzolo, defender.
Outlook: The Broncos stampede into Champaign with a school-record nine-match winning streak heading into their first-ever NCAA tournament game. Western Michigan was picked to finish sixth in the Mid-American Conference but, like DePaul, earned a berth by winning its conference tournament. Robinson is listed as a defender, but the freshman leads the team in scoring and tops the MAC with 11 assists for a team that scored a school-record 39 goals. Urbats is third on the team with 13 points, and Perz has seven shutouts, including five during the winning streak.
Illinois Fighting Illini (16-3-2)
Coach: Janet Rayfield (25-14-3 at Illinois, 70-78-10 overall)
Who to watch: Tara Hurless, forward; Leisha Alcia, goalkeeper; Meghan Kolze, defender; Jessica Bayne, forward.
Outlook: The ninth-ranked Illini are also hot, bringing a six-game winning streak into their third NCAA appearance. Coming off their first conference tournament championship, the Illini rely on the league''s best defense. They''ve only allowed 10 goals all season and none during the winning streak. Alcia is on pace to break the Big Ten single-season goals-against average mark, and big-game performer Hurless leads the team with 13 goals. Both made the all-conference first team along with Kolze. Bayne was a league all-freshman performer.
You can reach Brian Dietz at (217) 443-8945 or via e-mail at email@example.com.