Two Canadians highlight the Illinois women''s soccer class of 2004, a seven-player group that includes Urbana forward Ella Masar.
"The combined talents of this recruiting class include speed, height, international experience, composure and a raw determination that will enable them to have an impact immediately," Illinois coach Janet Rayfield said. "These seven young women will come in and challenge our current squad. The exciting part is that our current squad is prepared and excited for the challenge."
Illinois is coming off its best season in the program''s seven-year history, a campaign that included a school-record 16 wins and the program''s first Big Ten tournament title.
"This class will continue to move this program forward," Rayfield said.
Canadian imports Kristy Weeks and Emily Zurrer head the class. Weeks, a midfielder from North Vancouver, British Columbia, and Zurrer, a forward from Crofton, B.C., gained international experience as teammates on the Canadian National Team.
"(Weeks) will add a dimension of creativity and consistency to the midfield when we have the ball and a mentality and competitiveness when we don''t," Rayfield said. "(Zurrer) is a very mature and knowledgeable soccer player. Her speed and ability in the air will make her a dangerous attacking player."
Masar, a News-Gazette All-Area selection, led the Tigers to a regional championship in 2002. She''s the second local product in two years to sign with the Illini, joining Centennial grad Brittany Ward.
"It is tremendous that we have had back-to-back years with a local talent that can contribute to the program around which they have grown up," Rayfield said. "Ella has exceptional speed and explosiveness that give her an incredible ability to beat players to a ball."
The Illini added another midfielder: Erin Pilkington, the daughter of UI cross-country coach Paul Pilkington.
"Erin is another versatile player with excellent athletic qualities and solid technical ability," Rayfield said of the Roy, Utah, native. "The element that Erin will add to this class and to this team is her hardness and willingness to battle physically and psychologically."
Illinois also loaded up on defense, signing defenders Kara Gostisha and Mary Therese McDonnell and goalkeeper Lindsay Carstens. Ohio natives Carstens and Gostisha played on Cincinnati''s United Premier club team, and McDonnell is from Orland Park''s Carl Sandburg High.
"Mary Therese is among the top talent in the state, and it is our goal to keep the best here in the state," Rayfield said.