Always Willing To Learn
Oct. 15, 2003
Leisha Alcia has always been willing to learn.
Whether it has been adapting to life at the University of Illinois, far from her native Ontario, Canada, becoming interested in America's school system, or by simply just playing soccer, Alcia has always found a way to learn.
Now, as a junior on the Illinois women's soccer team, she is performing in a way that others can learn from her.
Alcia, who has already earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors this season, has maintained a strong presence in goal for the Illini. At one point in the season, the native of Mississauga, Ontario - which is located just outside of Toronto - recorded a school-record five consecutive shutouts. She has led her Illinois squad near the top of the conference standings and has her eyes set on a Big Ten championship.
"We're playing great this year," she says. "We set our goals high and are now just trying to achieve them. Last year we made a commitment to defend well, and that's really a tribute to what we're trying to do."
Alcia has always enjoyed the idea of defending. As a young nine-year old, she wanted nothing more than to be between the pipes when she began playing soccer. To her, it's the most demanding position. It was something different, something exciting, and something she immediately wanted to learn.
"I love being that last person of defense," she says. "I love people counting on me. I love just throwing my body around and stopping shots."
As a youngster, Alcia always looked up to women competing at the national level. Last September, her soccer career came full circle when she was selected to the Canadian National Team Pool and suited up for Team Canada for two games. To be able to play and learn along with the women she had grown to admire was the biggest thrill of her life.
"I've been in the program since I was 17, but to be in British Columbia playing against Australia," she says, "that was something else."
Early on in her life, Alcia and her parents knew that hockey was just about the only sport taken seriously north of the border. But Alcia was hooked on soccer, and she had to learn by taking the extra step and working hard to get what she wanted out of the sport. One of those things was a trip to college.
Alcia came to Champaign in the fall of 2001 and appeared to fit right in. During her freshman year, she was named to the All-Big Ten Tournament team, earned team defensive MVP honors, and was even named to the Soccer Buzz third team Freshman All-American squad.
But as natural as soccer in the States came to Alcia, the surroundings took a little more time to get used to. While she notes that the school and campus are "great," she also admits that she hasn't been able to venture out of Champaign other than road trips.
"When I got here it was really a shock. It was really a big difference from home," she says. "But the support that we get here, from fans to the athletic department, really makes this an experience. We have nothing like this at home."
Alcia's parents have been the biggest role models for her since she was young. They continue to be very supportive of both her academic and athletic career, and often make the nine-hour drive down to watch their daughter play. She also has many soccer friends from home that came to the States to play, including a few close friends at Illinois State.
School has always been intriguing to Alcia, especially since she came to Illinois. In her athletic bio, she lists Boston Public as her favorite television show, because it somewhat shows her the differences in schooling in the U.S. compared to Canada.
"I think it's interesting to see all the issues brought up in the show," she says. "I'm currently taking a history of education class, and we're focusing on standardized testing. I didn't even know what that was, because we don't have that back home. All of this is really helping me learn."
Upon completing her career at Illinois next year, Alcia plans to graduate with a degree in kinesiology, and possibly move on to graduate school, either in the States or back home. Eventually, Alcia would like to coach soccer on the collegiate level.
How fitting that the one person who has yearned to learn all her life, now wants to position herself as a teacher and a motivator.
And when simply asked what motivates her, Alcia replied, "Maximizing my potential. I live by the quote, 'Have you begun today what you wish to be tomorrow.'"
Perhaps some should not even hesitate to start learning from her now.