Senior Julie Ewing successfully made the switch from defense to midfield to help lead the Illini in her senior season, during which Ewing tallied 12 points on five goals and two assists.
April 26, 2012
The Uncommon Achievement series encompasses five stories on the Illinois soccer senior class and their impact on the 2011 season. Each member was integral in Illinois' 17-5-2 season, which included a Big Ten Tournament Championship and the most wins in a single year in program history. Each had to overcome a variety of tests or challenges, doing so in order to help secure one of the most successful seasons in school history.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Everyone knew it was set to be a year of change for Illinois soccer and, entering her final season, Julie Ewing found that for the first time in her career she did not know what position she would be playing.
A mainstay in an outside defensive spot during the 2009-10 seasons after contributing off the bench as a freshman, two places opened up in the defensive interior with the graduations of Danielle Kot and Krystin Miller. However, Ewing, standing about 5-foot-3, did not possess the height needed to command the middle of a defense and head coach Janet Rayfield was preparing to institute a three-person system regardless.
"For me, there was a level of uncertainly coming into the season," Ewing said. "We discussed the formation change as an option, but from my perspective it was not something we concentrated on in the spring."
With a wealth of defenders of similar size to Ewing, including potential starters in Christina Farrell and Kassidy Brown, it was no longer a necessity to have Ewing stay in the backline to lock down one of the wing positions. With her last college season only a few weeks away, Ewing was preparing to switch to a role she only occasionally played against collegiate opponents, that of an attacking midfielder.
A midfielder and forward throughout the majority of her club and high school career, Juice - the nickname given to Ewing and used as if it were her true first name - certainly knew what she was doing on the offensive end of the pitch.
"On the ball Juice was crafty - naturally deceptive and confident despite failure, meaning she may not beat you the first time but she would try something different until she did," Rayfield said. "She knew that somewhere in her bag of tricks - and she could be tricky - she had something that you could not stop."
All doubts as to Juice's ability to translate previous successes on offense to her current situation were quieted with five minutes left in the season-opener against Gonzaga. Ewing, who slotted perfectly into an outside midfielder role, controlled possession on the right side of the pitch near the top of the goalie box and served a ball over the head of Bulldogs keeper Susan Brown, deflecting the shot into the back of the netting off the cross bar. Any who still doubted her were informed it wasn't a fluke two days later, with Ewing tallying her second goal of the year on her only shot against Toledo, getting the offense on the board unassisted 14 minutes into the game.
"Although she did get that freedom [to play an attacking role] - I feel like she came into her senior season willing to do whatever she was called on to help her team," said Rayfield on Ewing's approach to the season and her changing role. "If that meant defending first and limiting her attacking, risk-taking adventures up the field she would do it. That willingness is probably what allowed us to try things and create a team that allowed her to be all that she wanted to be on the field and off."
While relying on her craftiness to split defenses and find shooting lanes, Ewing kept in mind her responsibility as a leader and a player willing to do what her team needed to be successful. Ewing, with classmate and center defender Jenna Carosio, took on a mentorship role for freshman Stephanie Pouse, who assumed a starting spot on defense in Illinois' second Big Ten game that she maintained during the Big Ten Tournament Championship and on through the NCAA Tournament, due in large part to the guidance provided from Ewing in the midfield.
Even with the move into an attacking role, Ewing was still finding ways to contribute on the backline.
"I knew coming in here I'd have to learn a lot and I felt it was really easy for me to learn from Juice," said Pouse when asked to explain the impact Ewing had on her development as a defender. "She was extremely knowledgeable on and experienced in what she was doing. It was just easy for me to not question what she was doing, but just to listen. That helped me so much, especially because she was playing on my side at times in the midfield. It was a big help having her presence there. It gave me the confidence I needed to know that I could do it."
And in the end, Ewing stepped up when her team needed her the most, capping off her offensive season with emphasis. During a play that looked to be breaking down as the No. 11 Penn State defense collapsed onto one of the first legitimate scoring runs of the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game, Ewing used her craftiness to secure a seam for classmate Marissa Mykines to distribute the ball into.
With one touch, Juice redirected the pass from Mykines by the dive of Nittany Lion keeper Erin McNulty and into the lower-right corner of the goal netting, giving Illinois an early 1-0 lead en route to a 2-1 overtime victory. The goal, the final one of her collegiate career, served as the perfect defining play on what she brought to the field throughout the season - the tenacity to fight through the obstacles ahead and the crafty play needed to create success in an unexpected way.
In all, Ewing totaled single-season career-highs in points (12) and goals (5) en route to the most successful offensive year for the Batavia, Ill., native at Illinois, and one of the most productive team-wise in the history of the program. With six career points entering the season, Ewing added double that over 24 games to cap her Illini career with a show of offensive prowess she always had confidence she possessed, leading the Illini to an undefeated record in the seven contests she produced at least one point in.
"I simply enjoyed the game, enjoyed the people that God gave me to play on such an amazing team with and the coaching staff, support staff and everyone else involved," said Ewing when asked to summarize her senior year experiences. "It was a great year to go out on, and I couldn't be any more thankful."