Alumna Masar returning to home field

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Illinois forward Ella Masar (3) celebrates after scoring her second goal to tie Illinois with Penn State in the second half, Saturday, October 1, 2006 at Illinois Track and Soccer Stadium. Illinois forward Chichi Nweke scored the final goal, sealing the 3-2 Illinois win.

By Steve Contorno

After one of the most decorated careers in Illinois soccer history, Urbana native Ella Masar has won championships on the international level and was drafted to play for the Chicago Red Stars in the newly created Women’s Professional Soccer league. On Tuesday, Masar, along with Red Stars teammate and former Illini Mary Therese McDonnell, will travel back to campus to compete against her alma mater in an exhibition. The Daily Illini had a chance to speak with Masar after practice before she left for Champaign.

Daily Illini: What has been the most difficult part of adjusting to the pro game?

Ella Masar: (The competition) is up on the national team level. It’s the best I’ve ever seen. You have your variation in talent, but on every pass you get the ball where you want it, everything’s really fast. It’s the best players. Plus you’re meeting everyone for the first time, so knowing and meeting everyone and getting comfortable is the most difficult right now.

DI: You get to be around a former teammate in Mary Therese McDonnell and a former assistant coach in Red Stars general manager Marcia McDermott. Has that helped with the adjustment process?

EM: They’re your backbone. With MT, if I’m having a bad training or she is, we know exactly how each other play so we can get each other going. And Marcia, it’s just the familiarity. It’s good because she knows my tendencies and what I need to work on and encourages me. Sometimes you need a coach that will say, “You did a good job.”

DI: Was there a moment when you knew you could play at that level?

EM: I think coming in I knew I could play at this level. In my particular situation, the three forwards we have can be considered the three best in the world. (Brazilian forward) Cristiane, her name speaks for herself. I know I can play at this level, but it’s going to take a while for me to realize that every day. Consistency is something I need to work on just to know every day I’m here for a reason.

DI: What do you think it will be like to be back at your alma mater playing in front of your home fans?

EM: It’s just going to be fun. It’s going to be a great end to the preseason; it’s going to sum up the month — the month of hell we’ve been through. And there’s nothing like being home, looking at the familiar crowd, even though I’m on the opposite side, that’s where I built my career. So no matter what, my home will always be at Illinois.

DI: Who do you think will have more fans, you or the Illini?

EM: (Laughs.) I hope Illinois, but that’s just because it’s their home field and it’s such an amazing program. But I wouldn’t mind a couple cheers my way.

DI: What was it like watching the Illini as a spectator from afar as they went to the Sweet 16 last year?

EM: It was hard. Watching them I knew I couldn’t have gone through the fall sitting there and not doing anything to help them. But there’s also a sense of pride because I know what they put in and all the hard work. To watch that, you can’t help but smile and cheer them on.

DI: What has been your favorite moment in your soccer career: winning the Nordic Cup with Team USA, getting drafted or the 2006 season in which you made the Sweet 16 and were named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year?

EM: Tough one. I think my favorite memory was the 2006 season, just because our team did really well, and I remember the Penn State game when we rallied from behind to beat them. That was the year that we got Illinois the respect it deserved as a national contender. But getting drafted was an amazing feeling, but at the same time you still haven’t proved anything so it’s kind of bittersweet.

—linebreak—Tuesday’s exhibition will be at the Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium. Tickets are free, but a $5 donation is suggested.