Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Rooting For Jill And Chessie

Want to know who one of the nicest people TigerBlog has ever met is?

Jill Ellis, the head coach of the U.S. women's national soccer team, the one currently competing in the Women's World Cup in Canada.

Ellis used to be the UCLA coach, and she coached against Princeton in the 2004 NCAA semifinals, back when Princeton became the only Ivy League school ever to reach the women's soccer Final Four.

When the Tigers got to Final Four in North Carolina that year, they didn't find some random coach waiting for them. Nope. Ellis happened to be the best friend of Princeton's head coach, Julie Shackford.

In fact, the two were so close that Ellis is the godmother for two of Shackford's children. The middle name for one of those two children is Jill.

TigerBlog met Ellis through Shackford, her teammate on a club team in Northern Virginia and later at William & Mary, where both were All-Americas. Then they both headed down the path of coaching.

Ellis grew up in England, near Portsmouth, the daughter of a soccer coach.

She is not exactly what you think about when you think of driven national team coaches. She's more like the really nice neighbor a few doors down, the one who is a nurse or a teacher or, the career she originally set out for, a writer.

She has a soft voice. She laughs at the end of most sentences, and she smiles through the ones where she doesn't laugh.

Anytime TigerBlog would see her or talk to her, she would ask about him and his children, and either she was genuinely interested or was great at making it seem like she was. TigerBlog will go with the first.

Much like Bob Bradley, the Princeton alum who coached the U.S. men's team in the 2010 World Cup, Ellis makes it really, really easy to root for her team. TigerBlog isn't a huge fan of the jingoism that accompanies international sports - as he says, he knows more Americans that he doesn't like than people of any other nationality. Plus, aren't Americans supposed to love to root for underdogs?

This time, TigerBlog is all in on the American women, who complete their preliminary round with a game tonight against Nigeria. Not because of anyone on the team. Because of the coach.

Back when Princeton lost to UCLA in that semifinal game, Princeton's goalkeeper was Madeleine Jackson.

TigerBlog saw the story yesterday on goprincetontigers.com about the hiring of an addition to the Princeton women's basketball staff of Chessie Jackson, who comes to Princeton from Smith College. She also scored 1,346 points at Williams as a player.

TigerBlog was reading the story when Milena Flores, who has been at Princeton since Courtney Banghart became head coach and who is a huge part of the success Banghart has had here, came walking by TB's office.

When TigerBlog mentioned the new hire, Milena said that Jackson was the sister of a former Princeton women's soccer player, one from the 2004 team. TB knew instantly that she was talking about Madeleine.

So, it's a bit of a small world, no?

Another of the 2004 Princeton women's soccer players has a connection to the current World Cup. Diana Matheson, a longtime veteran of the Canadian national team, is playing again for her national team.

Matheson is a hero of Canadian women's soccer. It was her stoppage time goal in the 2012 Olympics against France that won the Canadians the bronze medal.

TigerBlog remembers Matheson as a Princeton freshman back in 2004. Now she's 31.

TigerBlog has always rooted for Matheson, even when Canada played the U.S. team. Not this time though.

He's rooting for America. Rooting for Jill Ellis.

And come next basketball season, Chessie Jackson, whom TB would like to welcome to Princeton.

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