Breslin exemplifies leadership on, off field

Illinois+midfielder+Hope+Breslin+shoots+the+ball%2C+scoring+the+game-winning+goal+against+Indiana+at+the+Illinois+Soccer+Stadium+on+Oct.+14.+The+Illini+won+1-0+in+double+overtime.

The Daily Illini File Photo

Illinois midfielder Hope Breslin shoots the ball, scoring the game-winning goal against Indiana at the Illinois Soccer Stadium on Oct. 14. The Illini won 1-0 in double overtime.

By Claire O'Brien, Staff Writer

Illinois junior midfielder Hope Breslin is currently tied-for-first in goals this season. But off the field, Breslin is passionate about the special needs community, speaks American Sign Language and was a member of Best Buddies in high school.

She enjoys working with kids and helping them with language, and as a speech and hearing science major, one of Breslin’s career goals is to become a speech pathologist, but she also would like to keep playing soccer.

“I really like working with kids,” Breslin said. “If I can still play after school, that would be probably my main thing.”

As Breslin’s soccer career has gotten busier, she hasn’t spent much time getting involved in the special needs community in Champaign-Urbana, but is still dedicated to helping others.

Breslin was active in Best Buddies in high school. Best Buddies is an international group where students with intellectual and developmental disabilities form friendships with students who don’t. In a high school setting, Best Buddies is an after-school activity in which students get paired up with a buddy, where they do activities ranging from getting ice cream to going to football games together.

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    “My either junior or senior year, I was actually assigned my own buddy,” Breslin said. “I would hang out with him outside of school, and we would go to the movies, we would go bowling or I’d just hang out at his house. And I think it was a really cool experience.”

    Breslin also took four years of American Sign Language in high school and continues to practice the language.

    “My teacher was deaf, so I think that also added to the learning experience,” she said. “I still try to sign as much as I can, just because I think it’s a really cool thing to have, to know. And my teammates know that I sign, so now and then, they’ll ask me about like, ‘Oh what’s this sign?’ and so that kind of keeps it up a little.”

    Though Breslin isn’t as involved in the community as she was due to her commitment to the team, she is a key part of this year’s Illini squad, which is currently ranked No. 10 in the NCAA RPI with a record of 7-1-0. Breslin is tied-for-first in goals alongside sophomore forward Makena Silber and senior midfielder Arianna Veland, and each player has four.

    Last season, Breslin finished tied-for-second in goals with Silber; both had five goals each. Senior Katie Murray led the team with eight goals, and Murray plays professional soccer in Finland.

    Breslin comes from an athletic background. Her brother, Nick, played volleyball at Kean University in New Jersey and is currently an assistant coach for the team. She said her brother was a role model for her growing up, but Breslin also looks up to US Women’s National team midfielder Tobin Heath.

    “I think I play pretty similarly to (Heath),” Breslin said. “So I’ve looked up to her my entire life, and just any chance that I get to watch her, I want to learn something new.”

    Growing up, Breslin played a variety of sports including basketball, baseball, volleyball and, of course, soccer. She took to soccer the most and very quickly was able to distinguish herself, playing up a year in elementary school.

    “(My first soccer memory was) being pulled up to play with the older team,” she said. “(I) wasn’t really vibing with the team I was on, so they asked me to play up a year, and I was just so excited. And that’s, I think that was really the first time where I was challenged, just because they were older than me, bigger than me, so I had to learn to use my body more.”

    Breslin continued to challenge herself as a player and scored 35 goals her senior season of high school.

    Before coming to Illinois, the New York native had a decorated high school career, scoring 82 goals and winning the Gatorade New York State Player of the Year in 2016. Breslin’s high school won three state championships while she was on the team, winning in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

    “I really credit my team, and my town, and my coaches,” she said. “At home, it’s such a soccer community there, so just having those players and coaches with that much knowledge and skill really meant a lot that they were able to help me.”

    Breslin chose Illinois since she loved the campus and felt the coaching staff would help her improve. Demirjian Park was also a perk, but Breslin didn’t quite know what it would look like when she was a prospective student.

    “There were multiple schools that I visited,” she said. “I think the biggest thing is the coaching. That was probably one of my main things to look for in a school, just knowing that someone I can get better from was this coaching staff.”

    Breslin has not only improved as a soccer player, she has been able to find her passion off the field.

    @claire_obrien43

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