Alexis Prillaman’s feet were put to the test during the first practice of her freshman season. Her coach challenged her to perform 50 juggles in front of the girls varsity soccer team, and she accepted.
“I wasn’t sure if I was ready, especially with seniors looking at me,” Prillaman admitted. And after finishing the task, “I shocked myself.”
The Caesar Rodney (Camden, Del.) senior is a three-sport athlete – field hockey, basketball and soccer – but when asked what sport she most favors, Prillaman’s response was instantaneous: soccer.
Naturally. She has more than a decade of experience under her feet having been introduced to the game at age four.
Prillaman has been proving her talents for the past three years. As a junior, she helped the Riders to a 16-2 record and the state semifinals. She posted 38 goals (tallying her career total to 96), and her 17 assists ranked second on the team. Prillaman capped the season by earning the Delaware Girls High School Soccer Coaches Association Player of the Year.
Last spring, the Richmond-bound Prillaman was selected to play internationally as a member of the U.S. Region I National Soccer team. Prillaman, who enters the spotlight as part of USA TODAY High School Sports’ Ultimate Athlete profile series, discussed the eye-opening experience.
For eight months, we’re spotlighting cases deemed Ultimate Athlete-worthy as part of an ongoing, interactive discussion about what sport supersedes the rest. Check in for athlete profiles, smack talk, training videos and more, culminating with the crowning of the Ultimate Athlete.
What about soccer is most misunderstood?
Prillaman: That soccer is an easy sport. There are so many aspects you have to learn to be successful. You have to be tactical and strong with the ball, and you have to be very smart and skilled. You have to know every surface of your foot and of the ball, and know how the ball is going to react. It’s a complex sport.
When I was younger, I didn’t know that. I thought it was just a game in which you run, kick and score. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that there are so many different sides to the game.
Talk about a time you felt taxed from playing. What did you learn from the experience that’s been valuable to your development?
Prillaman: I started varsity my freshman year. We went into quarterfinals and lost after four overtimes. I remember being so exhausted. Everyone was cramping and was tired. I’ll never forget how I felt that game — drained. I kind of gave up. And when you give up, there’s a tendency for everyone to lose hope. After that game, I learned not to stop trying because there is always hope.
What’s your mental approach if you’ve had a bad practice or game?
Prillaman: I push it off. I don’t like to see myself perform poorly. It takes a day to get over it. I mentally prepare for the next practice and tell myself what I need to improve on.
Since your freshman season, you’ve grown approximately three inches. How has the spurt impacted your athletic ability?
Prillaman: When I was a freshman, I was called “string bean” because I had no muscle. I was so thin. I got knocked down a lot. When I reached 5-foot-9, I started working out more and getting aggressive. I have a lot of muscle now, and I’m better in the air. My legs can go long lengths, so it’s an advantage knowing that my foot will get to the ball in time.
This past March, you had the opportunity to play inSpain and Portugal as a member of the U.S. Region I National Soccer team. What was most impressive about the competition?
Prillaman: The tactical side of the game was a whole new world. They (opposing players) knew every side of the ball, and it was amazing what they could do. There were two different types of soccer being played. However, Americans are more aggressive. We had height, aggression and speed. The competition’s tactical side was immaculate.
What did you learn from the international experiences you can apply in your approach to the game moving forward?
Prillaman: Confidence. During the first game, I played against 25-year-old Spanish women. It was very intimidating. Coming off the field on the last day, I felt amazing, like I accomplished so much in a small amount of time.
If you could go back to your freshman season, what advice would you offer a younger version of yourself?
Prillaman: Freshman year, I wouldn’t take chances. I’d just pass the ball instead of taking on someone. Now that I’m older and am starting to do that, I’ve struggled with getting around that last defender and it’s because I didn’t go out on a limb during my freshman year. Don’t cut yourself short. I’d tell myself to challenge myself.