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

Illini star Lia Howard lives soccer dream, inspires up-and-coming players to do the same

Sophomore+forward+Lia+Howard+facing+off+against+the+Indiana+defense+at+Demirjian+Park+on+Sept.+21.
Eric Chiang
Sophomore forward Lia Howard facing off against the Indiana defense at Demirjian Park on Sept. 21.

After a disappointing first season where she barely featured for the Illini, sophomore midfielder Lia Howard showed the fans what she could do on the pitch when given the chance by head coach Janet Rayfield. The Massapequa native was a shining star this past season, topping the goal and assist charts with five goals and four assists in a good Illinois squad who, despite playing excellent soccer and building great team culture, was unfortunate to finish with a 6-8-3 record on the season.

“I came here (University of Illinois) as a freshman,” Howard said. “I didn’t have much of a role on the field, and that was so upsetting to me. I’m so competitive. All I want is for the team to do well, and to have an impact on our season.”

Breaking into the Illinois starting lineup is no easy feat for anyone, especially for a second-year student competing with the likes of outgoing senior midfielder Joanna Verzosa-Dolezal, junior midfielder Sydney Stephens and one of the greatest scorers to ever wear the orange and blue colors, graduate student forward Makena Silber. However, with her determination and courage, Howard took her chance with flying colors and became a regular starter in Rayfield’s system.

“I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” Howard said. “I think about the way they believed in me, even when I wasn’t playing last year. So many teammates had conversations with me, pushing me to get better, it makes you realize you’re being recognized. Yes, I did put in so much work to be where I am now, but my teammates played a huge part in that. They kept me going, and I thank them for that.”

Howard has always been a team-oriented player, even going back to her days at Massapequa High School in New York. Joining the varsity team in her sophomore year, she played a big part in helping them win two Nassau County championship titles and two Long Island championship titles. In her final season there, Howard scored 16 goals and recorded 29 assists, leading her school to the state championship in what was a dream campaign.

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    “I was watching the high school teams with my friends when I was little, and we always dreamed about winning a state championship together,” Howard said. “I made the team my sophomore year, and it was a dream come true. In those two years, I grew tremendously as a person, and had to take on that leadership role alongside my three best friends. We knew exactly what to do to breed success.”

    Many would think it was after those dream seasons with Massapequa when Howard decided to play soccer at Illinois. However, it turns out that the midfielder committed to the Illini when she was just 14 years old during freshman year of high school. Howard attended an ID camp, which resulted in her having a call with the coaches who gave her an offer to come to Illinois.

    “I wanted to go somewhere far from home, I wanted to branch out,” Howard said. “I spoke to my parents so many times about it, and had to make sure this is something I truly wanted. The environment of the team seemed so much fun and similar to high school, very inclusive and comfortable. It’s a combination of a great academic and athletic school, so it was the perfect fit.”

    Like every young girl who’s into soccer, Howard spent her days watching her local team and had a dream of becoming a professional player. Watching Massapequa High School, she saw future collegiate prospects flourish in front of her very eyes and was in awe. She wanted to be just like them. Now, after not only working hard but having that determination, Howard is able to experience not only hers, but every other young soccer girl’s dream.

    “I see all these little girls at our games at Demirjian Park,” Howard said. “I am so grateful to be that role model for them. I’m hoping that dream lives on and the passion for the game grows.”

     

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