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Pandemic pause shows St. Francis soccer player there's more to college than academics

Pandemic pause shows St. Francis soccer player there's more to college than academics

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Lockport resident Alexis Marroquin said she played soccer since she was 5 and when she was close to ending her career at Plainfield Central High School, she was ready to hang it up.

Colleges were interested in her, but she wasn’t interested in playing at that level. She just wanted to play one more season with Central in 2020, and get ready for an academic career focusing in on nursing.

But when the pandemic hit in 2020 and the Illinois High School Association canceled spring sports, Marroquin got a preview of life without soccer.

She didn’t like it.

“When COVID happened and my senior season was canceled, I really didn’t think I would miss it as much as I did,” she said. “I think having that time away made me realize that soccer has been my life for so long that I didn’t want to give it up.”

Marroquin contacted University of St. Francis coach Al Palar, who was trying to recruit her before she decided not to play in college.

Now, she is a sophomore on the powerhouse that features four players from the Lockport and Homer Glen area.

The Saints opened the season 5-1-0, outsccoring opponents 32-1. Through their first five games, the Saints were just one of four NAIA teams in the nation to hold opponents scoreless. It also marked their biggest winning streak since 2015.

The Saints haven’t had a winning season since 2015. When Marroquin was a freshman and Palar was in his first year with the Saints, they finished 2-8-1 in a COVID-shortened spring season.

Things have changed big-time.

“Last year was definitely a struggle for us,” Marroquin said. “I didn’t expect we would come in and win like we are now. It’s definitely a good feeling.”

Through six games, she has notched three goals and three assists and has not regretted changing her mind about soccer.

“I’m definitely happy with the decision, and I enjoy it much more than I thought I would,” she said.

Palar, who coached Moraine Valley Community College, in Palos Hills, for five years and took the Cyclones to the National Junior College Athletic Association national tournament four times, also was happy Marroquin changed her mind.

“Alexis was at Plainfield Central and I went to Plainfield Central and knew her family,” Palar said. "She was one of the first people I recruited. She’s very happy she is playing soccer, and I’m very grateful that she chose to play soccer. She’s a big part of our team.”

Senior Lauren Pikulski of Lockport became a top defender on the Saints. She played two years for Palar at Moraine Valley before joining him at the four-year school in Joliet.

“At Moraine, I wasn’t sure what her role was going to be,” he said. “But she became one of our top players. Defensively, she’s a rock. She’s very solid. We brought her over here hoping for the same thing.”

Homer Glen’s Hailey Bartlaga played one year at Moraine Valley and joined the Saints this year. She had a goal and an assist in her first five matches.

“I knew we had a good rapport with each other,” the coach said. “I like what she brings as a player so we brought her here.”

Freshman Emma Rosales, also of Homer Glen, registered an assist in her first three college games.

“She is going to do good things for us,” Palar said. “As a freshman, she is finding her way.”

Palar has built a strong team that could challenge the school record for wins in a season (12 in 2003), and he hasn’t been afraid to recruit area talent.

“I am looking for student-athletes who was to stay local and save money by being able to commute,” Palar said. “Not only do I look for a certain player, I look a certain person. With these four, we have good players and good people.”


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