The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Silber leads Illini soccer in final season, leaves legacy of goal scoring, teamwork

James Hoeck
Forward Makena Silber and Head coach Janet Rayfield speak toe each other before playing in the senior day match against Rutgers on Oct. 23, 2021. Silber makes her return to Illini soccer after recovering from injury for her final season.

To leave any sort of legacy behind at an NCAA program is no easy feat, and graduate student forward Makena Silber has certainly left her mark on Illinois soccer’s program. After five seasons with the Illini, the Crystal Lake native will be remembered as one of the greatest forwards to wear the orange and blue, currently tied with Colleen Joyce for the eighth most goals in program history.

Silber has been no stranger to scoring goals for Illinois, with the forward amassing 21 career goals and seven game-winners in 71 starts. Despite this achievement, chasing scoring records is not something Silber focuses on.

“I think any college athlete hopes to leave an impact on the program that they played for, and on the people they get to interact with on a daily basis,” Silber said. “As much as (individual achievements) are valuable to me, I really try not to think about that as much as ‘What can I do on a day-to-day basis to really leave a good impression?ʼ”

Silber’s journey kicked off to a strong start, with the forward scoring five goals in her debut season with the Illini in 2018. As a freshman, she started 17 matches and led the team with 46 shots. Needless to say, the foundation of Silber’s collegiate career was paved from the beginning, with one memory in particular standing out to the graduate student.

“We beat Duke when they were ranked my freshman year,” Silber said. “It was my first collegiate game and my first collegiate goal. I think that will rank as one of the highest (memories).”

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Silber continued to prove her ability in the attack each season, scoring six goals in 18 games in 2019, three goals in 12 games in 2020-21 and five goals in 17 games in 2021. Along the way, the Crystal Lake native has earned a number of individual awards over her five years with the program, including 2018 Big Ten All-Freshman honors, 2020 United Soccer Coaches Third Team All-North Region honors and 2020 Third Team All-Big Ten honors.

Now a seasoned veteran on the current Illinois roster, Silber has taken on a leadership role within the squad. With the program having struggled in Big Ten play in recent years, the 2023 Illini are shooting for success in this season’s conference campaign. One step in achieving this involves “reinventing a culture” within the program, something Silber is helping to promote.

“It’s been really cool,” Silber said. “We’ve started doing culture meetings to have really honest and vulnerable conversations with one another because a big thing is building those relationships off the field so that they transfer onto the field.”

Despite being the most capped player on the roster, Silber has had no problem stepping back and allowing newer players to come in and impact the program. While the forward has utilized her experience to help lead her teammates on the pitch, she places heavy value on the fresh perspectives and ideas of her teammates. A lot of Silber’s leadership was on heavy display last year. After tearing her ACL and missing the entirety of the 2022 season, Silber had to take on a heavy leadership role from the sideline.

“Any time an athlete has a big injury like that, it forces a perspective shift,” Silber said. “I was able to take on a new role that I had never experienced before. It allowed me to see things that I might not have been able to see if I’d been able to play. I took on a player coach role and was able to support and help my teammates toward the things I know they’re capable of. It was really cool to have that perspective.”

With Silber now fully recovered and back on the field for Illinois in 2023, the graduate student is able to continue leading from the pitch. After half a decade of goals, leadership and memories, Silber’s impact on Illinois’ program cannot be questioned. As the current squad hunts for Big Ten success this season, Silber will be spearheading the Illini attack one last time.

“It sounds so cliché, but everything goes by so fast,” Silber said. “You just really remember the people that you had around you and the emotions that I’ve felt in joy, love and support. Iʼm fond of all of those memories and they’re attached to so many people that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and continuing to know.”



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About the Contributors
James Kim
James Kim, Sports Editor
My name is James Kim and I’m a senior studying English with a minor in business. This is my third year with The Daily Illini and it’s been an amazing ride so far. When I joined in fall 2021, I began as a staff writer for the sports section where I covered women’s tennis. In spring 2022, I became an assistant sports editor and started covering soccer and Illinois men’s basketball. From spring 2023 onwards I’ve been working as the sports editor! In addition to being an Illini and Real Madrid fanatic, I also love watching movies and TV shows. If you have any questions about writing for The DI, you can reach me at my email below. I-L-L!
James Hoeck
James Hoeck, Photo Editor
Heyo! I am James Hoeck, a third-year undergraduate student in photography with a minor in media. I have been a part of Illini Media for two years, starting back in fall 2021. I hold the position of Photo Editor here at The Daily Illini. I also work as Photo Editor for Illini Media’s Illio Yearbook. There is a good chance you will see me out and about on campus taking photos for my personal work or for The DI and/or Illio! If you want to check out more of my work, visit my socials linked below.
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