Illinois-bound Masar has found fulfillment on and off soccer field
URBANA – Ella Masar is not a hard person to describe.
Really, it boils down to one simple word: fun.
If you''re in Masar''s presence, you will have fun. Those are Rules 1 and 1A when the Urbana senior is present.
"She''s crazy," Tigers soccer teammate Kacia Snyder said. "She''s one you always want to be around. She''ll go down hills on skateboards and Rollerblades, go down parking garages. She''s just always out having a crazy time. Always (doing) something you don''t expect.
"You never get bored with her."
The News-Gazette''s Area Player of the Year is as vivacious off the field as she is on it. Life is too short to be mundane, so Masar ensures that it is not.
"She''s just such a blast. She''s always kind of the life of the party," said Seredy Masar, the oldest of four siblings. "She loves to be goofy, and she''s the person who will say what everyone is thinking but no one has the guts to say. That''s Ella. She''ll come right out and say it. And innocently so.
"She speaks her mind. It''s hilarious. Something wild is always coming out of that child''s mouth."
If you''ve seen Masar play soccer, that''s not surprising to learn. She attacks the sport, plays it with an uncommon passion and drive. Unfortunately, that drive was muted for much of the past year by a mysterious injury that forced her out of action for most of 10 months.
A shin splints-like injury meant Masar had to sit – completely abstaining from physical activity. Rest was the best therapy, she was told. When that didn''t work, Masar visited a specialist in Wisconsin for surgery in February to repair a condition called periostitis, which had lingered since her sophomore year.
"I honestly didn''t think she could play (this season)," Urbana coach Randy Blackman said. "In her first game back, she scores in 26 seconds. That shows the type of individual she is."
Sitting out sparked a difference.
"Watching people practicing, watching people play, you realize how much harder you have to work," she said. "I worked hard before, but I realized I was really lazy at certain points."
After having not run for six months, Masar managed 14 goals this season, which was well short of her area-record 40 of last spring but good enough to break Katie Stephens'' school record with 91.
"She''s playing at about 60 percent," Blackman said. "It shows the type of dedication and determination this girl has."
That drive is one reason why Masar received a scholarship to Illinois, earning a spot on one of the top teams in the country. It extends far beyond the eagerness shown by even the most successful prep athletes.
"The season just ended," Seredy Masar said, "and workouts just started for the U of I, and every day it''s, ''I''m going to work out, I''m going to do this.''
"She''s so unbelievably dedicated and determined, and it comes above everything. It amazes me because she''s an 18-year-old girl who could be off enjoying the beginning of her summer. She''s always practicing."
Masar gets it honestly.
Older brother Tyson was a soccer standout at Urbana University High before starring for the successful UI club team. Her twin sister, Liza, played basketball and volleyball at Urbana.
Along with Seredy, a teacher at Urbana Middle School, the siblings have provided support and encouragement through some difficult times, using the unique dynamics offered by their relationships.
In a soccer sense, Tyson was the mentor. Liza was "the girly one, hanging with all the girls," Ella said, but she began tagging along with the boys, usually with a soccer ball at play.
Seredy, as the oldest, was something of a motherly figure. Liza, a twin, has a natural bond with her sister.
"I''m the oldest, so when it comes to advice or decisions to make, she and I talk," Seredy said. "Athletically, it''s definitely Tyson. They can connect. There''s always a sense of competition; she''s always pushing herself. She and Liza, I don''t know if it''s the twin thing, but I don''t think anyone understands Ella better than Liza. They spend so much time together and they share a circle of friends."
Ella said she''s not sure if it''s like this with every family, but she knows which brother or sister is likely to have the best answer for a particular situation.
"If I really want an upfront answer, and it''s not about sports, I''ll probably go to Liza," Ella said. "Seredy has always been like the mother figure and really comforting. Whatever you need, she''ll be there. And Tyson''s like, ''OK, get your butt in gear, stop being a baby.'' Like with my shins, he''d say, ''You''re such a baby. Get out there and play. You''re not hurt.'' "
Fitting right in
While her determination and her ability to have fun define her personality, Masar has another side that belies a fierce nature on the soccer field.
Masar''s outgoing nature and fun-loving approach allow her to connect with nearly everyone. And it''s what she wants to do.
"As tough of a competitor as she is," Blackman said, "at the core of her being, she is one of the more caring individuals you''ll meet. She will do anything to try to help anybody."
Masar plans to study special education at the UI, an interest carried along by her relationship with the autistic brother of one of her closest friends.
Having fun, playing hard and living life to its fullest. Masar seems to have found the secret to fulfillment.
"If we''re sitting there and everybody is really bored, I''ll say, ''Let''s go do this.'' And if people are being dumb or something, I''ll be the first to join in and be a little goofy. I think everything is one chance."
You can reach Tony Bleill at (217) 351-5605 or via e-mail at email@example.com.