Top goal scorer to train with U.S. elite

By Steve Contorno

Several months removed from the winningest season in its 10-year history, the Illinois women’s soccer team will see their top goal scorer train with some of the best players in the country. Junior forward Ella Masar will get her first chance to perform at the international level this week, as the Urbana native was invited to the U.S. U-21 National Team training camp. From Jan. 13 to 20 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., the camp will host 26 of the nation’s top college athletes.

Masar’s invite comes after a breakout junior season in which she was decorated with awards across the country. The Big Ten named Masar the Offensive Player of the Year in early November, followed by honors from TopDrawerSoccer.com, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, Adidas and Soccer Buzz.

In 24 games, including 23 starts, Masar scored 27 points on nine goals and nine assists – both team highs. She ranked toward the top of nearly every conference offensive category and was the Big Ten leader in points and assists. Masar’s five game-winning goals, including three in conference games, tied for the most in the conference.

Masar’s biggest game clincher came on Oct. 1 against Penn State. Down two goals in the second half, Masar aided the Illini comeback by netting the game-tying goal and the winning goal to give Illinois a 3-2 victory. Masar helped Illinois finish the Big Ten season with eight conference wins, the most in Illinois soccer history.

“I am so excited for and extremely proud of Ella,” Illinois head coach Janet Rayfield said. “This accomplishment is the product of opportunity, a competitive environment, a relentless work ethic and incredible determination. I know Ella will represent herself and this program well, and she will fight hard to have a chance to represent this country.”

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The U-21 women’s national team recently finished international competition this past November by claiming a second place finish in the Nordic Cup in Stavenger, Norway. The U.S. fell to Germany’s national team 2-0 in a meeting of the world’s top two women’s soccer nations.

Masar is one of two Big Ten players that will attend the week-long training camp. Penn State midfielder Ali Krieger has also been invited. Masar is the second Illini to play for the U-21 national team; former Illinois All-American Tara Hurless played for the team in 2004. Current sophomore defender Emily Zurrer played for Canada’s U-20 national team in the summer of 2006.