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Everyone knew former Columbus North keeper Elizabeth James was a special athlete.
How special was hard to tell.
She just didn’t get challenged all that much.
Now the starting keeper as a University of Dayton freshman, James is proving that she absolutely deserves her designation as an “elite” player.
“I am gaining the respect and confidence of the girls here who are older than me,” James said. “That’s the most rewarding.”
Besides her teammates and coaches, a lot of other people are taking notice as well. James has earned two Atlantic 10 rookie of the week honors and also was named national player of the week by the National Soccer Coaches Association.
She set a team record with six consecutive shutouts, and she leads the Atlantic 10 with seven shutouts. Dayton is 6-0 in conference play and has clinched at least a tie for the conference championship.
With all that behind her this season, she points to a 3-1 loss to highly regarded Kentucky as one of her top games. She had nine saves in that one.
“It’s really great to be competing on a national level,” said James, who was the Bull Dogs’ captain and MVP her senior season in 2012.
“In high school, we were good, and we faced varying levels of talent. Every girl at this level is good. It’s hard to adjust.”
James helped herself adjust through hard work.
“I came early over the summer and started lifting weights,” she said. “I hadn’t really lifted weights a whole lot before. I started doing position specific lifting, and most of that was to get up to team standards.
“You also have to pass a physical fitness test that mostly is running.”
Although those physical workouts aren’t the most enjoyable ways to pass the day, James said she has seen where the work has helped her game. Right away she noticed that she could kick the ball farther and had better control over where the ball was going.
She also brought her fitness to a new level despite having ACL surgery in March. She tore the ligament during club soccer competition with Carmel United in Dallas.
Although she was scared of what the Flyers head coach Mike Tucker and his staff might think of her injury, it quickly was confirmed that her scholarship would be there.
“They were amazing,” James said of the Dayton coaches. “They didn’t freak out. It’s always in the back of your mind that your scholarship might not be there. But I had faith in the program.”
Dayton’s faith in James was repaid when she won the job on her first attempt.
“I definitely think having my role at North more prepared me for my role here,” she said.
Although a freshman, James said her leadership abilities have carried over from North. She said she can’t afford to be a shy freshman.
“My position doesn’t let me do that,” she said. “I am very vocal, and I think that gives me an edge.”
Dayton has two more regular-season games before the postseason tournaments begin. If James continues to earn national recognition, she might even be able to perform on a national team or professional level.
“Obviously, I would love to,” she said. “But I am just getting started.”
Former Bull Dog cards low score
Another former North athlete, golfer Jake Coffey, is showing his ability at Indiana Wesleyan.
Coffey shot 75-76 at the NCCAA National Championship last week at The Hombre in Panama City, Fla.
Coffey was Indiana Wesleyan’s low scorer in the tournament. The team just missed qualifying for final-round play when it tied for 12th overall and lost a tie-breaker for the final qualifying position against Shorter (Ga.).
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.
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