All-time starting 11 shows off star Illini soccer players


Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Junior Vanessa DiBernardo fights for control of the ball in a match during the 2012 season.

By Angelle Cortes, Staff Writer

The Illinois women’s soccer team has been in a slump over the past several seasons, going six years without an NCAA Tournament appearance. However, there are still many talented players to come out of the program. Here is Illinois’s all-time starting 11.

Goalkeeper – Leisha Alcia

Leisha Alcia is one of the most decorated players in Illinois soccer history. On the team from 2001-2004, she brought a lot of talent from Canada, and her goalkeeping ability is like none other.

Playing in the early years of the program, Alcia made her mark on the program and brought in many firsts for Illinois when Janet Rayfield became head coach in 2002. A wall in goal, Alcia made save after save and currently holds the school record in career saves with 368. Appearing in 83 out of 85 games and playing almost 7,700 minutes, Alcia earned 24 shutouts. In 2003, she was an integral part of Illinois’ first Big Ten Tournament title. She earned a shutout in each game of the tournament against Michigan State, Purdue and then in the final against Michigan.

By the end of her Illini career Alcia earned two time All-American honors during her freshman and senior years. She was named an All-Big Ten and Big Ten All-Tournament Team and received the Dike Eddleman Athlete of the Year award in 2003-2004.

Defender – Emily Zurrer

As an international student from Canada, Emily Zurrer came in with a lot of talent and experience. She was a member of the Canadian National U-16, U-17 and U-19 teams while in high school and attended eight National Team Camps.

As one of the most decorated players to be an Illini, Zurrer became an anchor in the back line. On the team from 2005-2008, she was instantly a huge contributor. Bagging Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and earning a place on the All-America Third Team by NSCAA and Soccer Buzz her sophomore year was the start of her reign on the defensive line. By junior year Zurrer again contributed endlessly and helped the team to a second-round finish in the NCAA Tournament and third place in the Big Ten Conference that season.

Before the start of her senior year, Zurrer represented Canada in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, starting in every game in the back line, leading the Canadians to a fifth place finish. Her final season saw her lead the Illini to a Sweet 16 finish in the NCAA Tournament. In her four years on the back line, Illinois produced 42 shutouts and gave up only 19 goals. Her ability on the back line earned her the Big Ten Medal of Honor in 2009.

Defender – Jenna Carosio

Jenna Carosio was one of the five seniors of the 2011 season that was given the chance to shine by current head coach Janet Rayfield. That same season saw Carosio be converted from a midfielder to a defender.

Going from starting a mere five games her junior season, Carosio started in all 24 games her senior year. Becoming a solid rock in defense after getting used to the back line she found her stride. When it came to a tough road in the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament Carosio, and with the help of goalkeeper Steph Panozzo, they helped keep the Illini alive. In the NCAA Tournament first round against defending champions Notre Dame, the defense helped keep a shutout leading to junior Niki Read with the lone goal in the 1-0 win.

Her defensive skills earned her a place on the NSCAA All-Great Lakes Region First Team, Big Ten Defender of the Year, First Team All-Big Ten and the Big Ten Medal of Honor.

Defender Christen Karniski

One of the most decorated Illini in history, Christen Karniski started and played in all 89 games of her career, totaling over 8,000 minutes of gameplay on the field. Named to the NSCAA All-American Second Team and two-time NSCAA All-Great Lakes Region Team she dominated the back line.

On the team from 2002-2005, she was a part of the first Big Ten title for Illinois. Playing in the back she contributed a lot to the three shutouts of the tournament. The 2004 NCAA Tournament was the highest finish for Illinois in program history. As part of the back line, they played a crucial part to the Elite Eight finish. The team beat Rice, Texas A&M and Nebraska before falling to Santa Clara, 2-0, in the quarterfinals.

The Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Year and Medal of Honor recipient was the No. 64 WPS draft pick by the Washington Freedom.

Defender – Danielle Kot

With knowledge in the classroom and on the field, Kot was unstoppable in the defensive line. The Brookfield, Wisconsin, native started off strong for the Illini, starting in 20 games and earning a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. Her following three seasons saw her become a crucial player for the Illini.

Playing in over 5,000 minutes and achieving 23 shutouts in total she helped the team into three NCAA Tournament appearances finishing in the first round, second round and Sweet 16. By the time of her junior year, she was in command of the back line. Her skill and leadership helped the back line shut down the opposition’s attack. Junior year saw Kot and the back line only let in 27 goals with an average of 1.37 per game. The following year the defense only let in 19 goals, letting in one or fewer goals in 15 games.

Kot was a three-time Team Defensive MVP, though she shared the award with Alexandra Kapicka in 2008. Her junior year she was named to the NSCAA Scholar All-Central Region Third Team and Co-Team MVP again sharing the spot, but this time with Jackie Santacaterina. By her senior year she earned a spot in the ESPN The Magazine/CoSIDA Academic All-District.

Midfielder – Vanessa DiBernardo

Vanessa DiBernardo is possibly one of the most successful players to come out of Illinois. A massive contributor to each season, DiBernardo racked up many awards and recognition. Most notably DiBernardo was named to the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list as a sophomore and was a candidate her junior and senior year.

A Big Ten Medal of Honor recipient, she led the team to Big Ten Tournament championships in 2011 and four NCAA Tournament appearances with a sweet 16 finish in 2013. DiBernardo is fourth on the list for most career goals at 43 and leads the list of most career assists at 22. As a dominant force in the midfield, she was vital in every season and her skill helped propel Illinois into a ranked team, sitting at No. 25 in 2011 and 2012.

The Naperville, Illinois, native became Illinois’ highest drafted player in history in the 2014 NWSL Draft. DiBernardo was the No. 4 draft pick by the Chicago Red Stars and has made 86 appearances, along with seven goals, for the team. This coming fall DiBernardo will be inducted into the class of 2020 Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame.

Midfielder – Jackie Santacaterina 

The Geneva, Illinois, native was a tough player to face and frequently won the ball in any challenge she faced. Santacaterina slowly began to grow into a leader of the team and eventually became a captain.

In three of her four years, Santacaterina was named to the All-Freshman Big Ten Team and All-Big Ten Second Team. Her freshman year saw her named an All-American with fellow teammate Chichi Nweke. With immense ball-winning skills and hard tackles, she stepped up her game her junior year. Starting every game, she helped carry the team into the NCAA Tournament, finishing in the sweet 16 round after a 3-0 loss to No. 1 seed North Carolina.

In the 2010 WPS Draft Santacaterina was the No. 60 pick in the seventh round by the Chicago Red Stars. She played with the Red Stars throughout three different leagues once the NWSL was settled and played one year in the league. In 2014 she announced her retirement from soccer, citing an injury.

Midfielder – Marissa Mykines

Like Jenna Carosio, Mykines was one of the five seniors of the 2012 class to be given the chance to prove herself in her final year as an Illini. While she saw action in her previous three years, Rayfield saw a completely different Mykines in the 2011 season. She turned into a strong offensive player, earning the Big Ten Tournament Offensive MVP Award.

Mykines’s attacking ability saw her contribute a lot against Big Ten teams her senior year. She helped the team a lot in tied and overtime games, slotting in multiple game-winning goals. Her scoring ability helped against a regular-season game against Michigan State that went into double-overtime as well as against Northwestern in her only shot of the game. In the Big Ten Tournament semi-final win over Michigan State that went into overtime, she again came up clutch and propelled Illinois into the final against No. 1 Penn State, eventually becoming the champions of the Big Ten Tournament. She finished off her season with a career-high eight goals and three assists.

Mykines was named to the Big Ten All-Tournament Team, NSCAA All-Great Lakes Region Second Team and All-Big Ten Second Team.

Forward – Jannelle Flaws

Jannelle Flaws is undoubtedly one of the best offensive powerhouses in Illinois soccer history. After five years on the team, Flaws ended her career as the all-time leader in goals scored with 54 during their career and earned two Big Ten Forward of the Year Awards, making her the first Illini to do it in school history. She was also named 2013 Dike Eddleman Female Athlete of the Year.

Plagued with a knee and leg injury during Flaw’s early years on the team, she didn’t let that stop her. By the 2013 season Flaws was becoming an offensive starlet. That season she accounted for 43% of the goals Illinois scored and averaged 1.00 goals per game and scored a record of 23 goals in one season, beating the previous holder, Emily Brown from 1999. As a redshirt senior in 2014, she continued her momentum, ranked 10th in the country in goals per game (0.850) as well as leading the Big Ten and tied for 12th in the NCAA with 17 goals. By her final year in 2015 Flaws was on the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list. She converted about half (40) of her shots (88) on goal, scored the most goals (29) and points (64) in Big Ten, a school record, and led the team in goals with 11.

With Flaws’ lethal forward ability she helped Illinois with their second-highest finish in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, getting knocked out in the sweet 16 by Boston College, 4-1.

Flaws was the 33rd pick in the NWSL draft’s fourth round by the Chicago Red Stars. Currently, Flaws play soccer in Germany with BV Cloppenburg.

Forward – Tara Hurless

A clutch player up top, Hurless is one of the best forwards to come out of the Illinois soccer program. Playing the same year as Leisha Alcia, both were an unstoppable force in the offense and defense.

Second in all-time goals in her career with 47, Hurless held the number one spot for eleven years. While a goal-scoring machine, she was also bagging assists for her teammates, again holding the second spot for all-time career assists with 21. Hurless was a key player in the 2003 Big Ten Tournament title, scoring one of the two goals in the 2-0 win over Michigan.

Hurless was a two time All-American and Illini’s Offensive MVP all four years. She was also named to the All-Great Lakes Region First Team twice in 2003 and 2004 and earned a place on the second team in 2002. Hurless was named to the All-Big Ten First Team and Big Ten All-Tournament Team in 2003 and 2004. She was part of the Class of 2018 Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame.

Forward – Ella Masar

On the team from 2004-2007, Ella Masar was a walk-on player. Rayfield gave Masar a shot on the team, and it paid off as she ended her Illini career ranking fifth in all-time career goals with 27 and third in all-time career assists with 20. Her junior and senior year was when her ability really took off on the field. Masar was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and named a second-team All-American by the NSCAA her junior year. She alsop landed a spot on the All-Big Ten Tournament Team two years in a row, and was recognized her senior year with a spot on the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list.

The Urbana, Illinois, native played in 90 games over her four-year career, ranking second in all-time games played, missing the top spot by only one game. By Masar’s junior year she became the leader in the league in game-winning goals and was a part of 10 out of the 16 game-winning goals that season. As senior year came, she was named one of the three captains of the team, playing in all but one game in the 2007 season. She was a forward powerhouse, scoring 12 goals in addition to coming in clutch with game-winning goals (7), tied for most in the Big Ten. Masar was named to the All-Big Ten First Team, Lowe’s All-American First Team and made the second team of the Top Drawer Soccer Team of the Season.

In Masar’s last two summers as an Illini, she played with the Vancouver Whitecaps in the W-league alongside teammate Emily Zurrer. She was also a part of the U.S. U-21 team and helped win a Nordic Cup Championship. With the NWSL not even existing by the time, Masar graduated and stuck with the Vancouver Whitecaps but bounced around in clubs and leagues before settling in Germany with VfL Wolfsburg. Today Masar does not play professionally but rather coaches a team in Germany called the Panthers.

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