January 7, 2005

Skillfull De Leon earned All-American award

Coming at the beginning of winter break, the news that third-year women's soccer midfielder Jacqui De Leon was named second-team All-American easily got lost in the holiday shuffle. Yet, having again been the team's best midfielder despite playing with a surgically repaired left forearm fracture, she has earned some attention.

Anyone that has watched De Leon the past three years knows that she may be the team's most skillful player, combining speed and impeccable passing while commanding the midfield. Her two goals and five assists may not immediately stand out, but you better believe that she had a foot on many of the team's 44 goals.

De Leon often helped make the job easy for her forwards with "defense-splitting through-balls that Chicago's strikers gleefully tuck away," according to our soccer analyst Omar Al-Ubaydli's November column. Third-year forward Renee Neuner, who showed her excellent finishing skills again with 19 goals, emphasized how important the midfield and defense was for doing "the dirty work." De Leon assisted Neuner three times with her ankle-breaking ball-handling and passes.

That's not to say that she didn't show a goal-scoring flair of her own, as she delivered arguably the team's prettiest goal of the season. Her authoritative running header of third-year Monica Michelotti's cross on October 23 only emphasized what head coach Amy Reifert would later say: "When she's on, she's as good as anyone in Division III. There were times she played out of her mind." It was little coincidence that the team recovered from a short midseason struggle when she returned to the field, foam-wrapped cast and all.

Perhaps her most impressive performance came in the sectional semifinals against Wheaton, the eventual national champions. On a wet, chilly night against the physically imposing Thunder, De Leon again showed her skill, creating a handful of quality scoring opportunities and schooling a tall, speedy midfield. A better bounce here and a successful finish there could have led to a completely different end result, in large part because of De Leon's play.

Had she played the entire season, De Leon likely would have garnered well-deserved first-team honors. Like the rest of her team, however, she cares little about the individual honors and solely about the Maroons returning to the nation's top slot. As she said immediately after the Wheaton loss, "I want nothing less than a national championship. And I know all my teammates agree this is going to be our goal."