Senior athletes will continue to compete after graduation



By Meghan Montemurro

“There are over 380,000 NCAA student-athletes, and just about all of them will be going pro in something other than sports.”

Commercials sponsored by the NCAA regularly depict athletes playing a sport, whether it’s basketball, field hockey or soccer, and the significance of their degree after their collegiate careers.

For Illinois student-athlete graduates, the importance of a degree can offer more than a future after athletics.

It can also serve as a backup if endeavors into the realm of professional sports fall short.

After sharing the same softball diamond for the past four years, shortstop Angelena Mexicano and third baseman Shanna Diller will have the opportunity to do so again in the professional ranks. But this time they will play on opposing teams.

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Mexicano was drafted No. 17 overall in the third round by the Akron Racers of the National Pro Fastpitch league.

Her left-side counterpart, Diller, plans to play for the Rockford Thunder, a move that allows her to stay in-state and close to her Bloomington, Ill., home.

“What’s nice about it is not having to travel far,” Diller said. “I didn’t go far to go to school, and I won’t have to go far to go to (Rockford), so it’ll be nice having my family come visit me a lot, and I’ll be close to all my friends and be able to see all the girls that stay here this summer.”

Mexicano joked that she is continuing to move farther and farther away from her home in San Jose, Calif., rather than closer.

“I think it’s exciting,” Mexicano said of the impending move. “I’m just looking forward to it and to the experience. Friends say they are going to come visit me and help me move in and cheer me on. It’s just going to be exciting.”

While the duo aren’t quite sure when they will have to report to their new teams, they expect to have a couple of days off after both graduated with degrees in advertising.

One of the biggest adjustments for the tandem will be facing each other on opposing teams.

“She’s been next to me in the batting order (and on the field) for the past four years, and then having to play against her is going to be very weird,” Diller said of Mexicano.

“And then not being able to go over and talk to her in the dugout and now having to keep distance is going to be weird. It’s definitely going to be a big change.”

Mexicano made sure to note that “if I’m going to be on third base I’m going to be like, ‘Diller, Diller.'”

The two Illini will joining another alumna, first baseman Jenna Hall, in the professional softball league.

Hall plays for the Philadelphia Force and both Mexicano and Diller said she has given advice on what to expect at the next level. Diller, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, isn’t setting her expectations too high.

“I don’t expect much,” Diller said. “It’s kind of like freshman year all over again. It’s not like going into it knowing you’re going to be a starter or knowing you’re going to play. You definitely have to prove yourself and vie for the position. If I get to start or if I get one at-bat every 15 games, I’ll still be happy that I get to be a part of it.”

For Mexicano, her opportunity to play professional ball is a childhood dream come true.

“I’ve been telling my friends back home, ‘I’ve always dreamed about this. I’ve always said I want to play pro ball,'” the Big Ten single-season home run record-holder said.

“And it’s amazing that’s finally come true and getting the chance to do it and see what I can do.”

Illinois softball won’t be the only team with players representing the Orange and Blue in the professional ranks. Soccer player and Urbana native Ella Masar attempts to extend her career on the field in the Women’s Professional Soccer league, which will begin play in spring 2009.

Masar, a forward, plans to travel to Washington, D.C., and play for the Washington Freedom. While a roster spot is not guaranteed, she hopes to make a professional team.

“Nothing’s for sure, but hopefully you play well enough there for someone in the league to pick you up,” Masar said, who led the Illini with 12 goals and 27 points this season.

The recent Illinois graduate described the professional process as “stressful having to compete against some of the top players from college.”

Despite the pressures, Masar has tried to enjoy her time, just having returned from playing for the U-23 team.

“When everyone comes to college, a lot of people talk about how they want to become All-Americans or play for a national team, and that was my goal,” Masar said.

“I kind of always have a chip on my shoulder that I want to play my best and make it. After my senior year I started getting awards and accolades that I had worked so hard for. I can’t believe it’s over, then again that’s one chapter of my life that I won’t forget.”

With a new chapter set to begin, the always-determined Masar wants to show people that she has made it.

“I want to be a role model for kids that came from the same background as me,” she said.

“My ultimate goal is to make the national team, so I have four years to really train for that. If it doesn’t work out, I know that I had the chance to do that.”

Masar’s fellow teammate, goalkeeper Lindsey Carstens, hopes to crack the professional field, but has a few different goals for the future. The West Chester, Ohio, native is making plans to pursue soccer in a European professional league – possibly in Sweden or Norway.

However, furthering her education is still on her list of priorities. Carstens plans to apply to graduate school this fall after earning her degree in kinesiology.

“At this point, there is a pretty good possibility of playing soccer this fall, and that’s all I know at this point,” Carstens said with a laugh. Carstens led Illinois in the net, recording 11 shutouts while holding opponents to an average of only 0.95 goals per game.

With future plans in quasi-limbo, Carstens is using this summer to volunteer as a physical therapist so she can apply to graduate school and take the year off to focus on playing soccer overseas.

No longer balancing both school work and soccer, Carstens will have a lot more time on her hands.

“It’s going to be new,” Carstens said of the change. “That’s all I’ve ever been used to. It’s going to be interesting. I’m going to have a lot of time that I’m not going to know what to do with myself just because I’ve been so busy, and I think I’m going to miss being busy.”

That’s not to say her experience won’t bring out new emotions.

“I’m really excited, and I hope it works out,” Carstens said. “I’m excited and nervous at the same time because I’ll be in a foreign country by myself, but I’m excited more than nervous.”