Illinois soccer’s Breece is all about the flip


Tyler Courtney | The Daily Illin

Nicole Breece performs a long throw during Friday’s game against TCU.

By Matt Gertsmeier

One of the biggest challenges of playing soccer on the road is dealing with the fans. Fans will taunt, jeer and do anything possible to make the away team feel uncomfortable.

While the taunts usually last the entire game, Illini soccer midfielder Nicole Breece knows how to quiet the crowd for a brief moment. She just needs the ball to go out of bounds.

In soccer, more often than not, when the ball rolls out of play, a standard throw-in takes place. A player throws the ball in over their head with two hands on the ball.

Breece is the rare exception.

The senior gets a running start and propels herself into a front handspring, catapulting the ball into a scoring position.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
Thank you for subscribing!

It’s impressive. It’s thrilling. It’s a skill Breece developed at a young age.

Before she started playing soccer, Breece became involved with gymnastics, thanks to her mother, Jacki Breece.

“She started when she was about 4 or 5,” Jacki said. “She had a lot of energy, her and her sister, so I signed them up.”

Nicole participated in gymnastics through her childhood years, but stopped when she was around 11 years old, since it became too time-consuming. She also discovered that she was more interested and skilled in soccer.

Despite her gymnastics career coming to an end, Nicole found a way to incorporate her gymnast skills with her soccer skills.

Through gymnastics she learned a front handspring and one day during her U11 soccer days, she decided to try to perform a front handspring throw-in.

“It probably took a few months (to learn),” Nicole said. “I had my front handspring down pretty well and then just kept doing it in my free time. Also, growing up I had one of my teammates who could do it as well; her uncle knew how to do it and coach it, so he helped me with it.”

Even though Nicole learned the flip throw-in at a young age, she hasn’t mastered it yet. There are instances when she slips and botches the throw. But the flip throw’s inconsistency is what makes it so effective.

Nicole performs the flip throw for more distance. The extra power allows her to set teammates up with scoring chances. The throw is occasionally unpredictable, but head coach Janet Rayfield doesn’t mind.

“It’s inconsistent in terms of height and location and those are things that make it really hard for a defense to strategize on how to stop it,” Rayfield said.

Nicole is currently the only one on Illinois that can perform the flip throw-in. She’s also one of the few in the NCAA with the technique to pull it off. As a result, it generally surprises fans.

“I remember one game somebody said that it should be illegal,” Jacki said. “It’s funny because even a lot of people from the other team, they’ll be like, ‘No. 11, do that flip throw.’ It’s pretty funny to hear people talking about it.”

Her gymnastics days are behind her, but Nicole can still showcase her acrobatic talents and silence an opposing crowd.

She just needs the ball to go out of bounds.

[email protected]