Look of Leadership

One season, one goal, one dream.

The women's soccer team wanted nothing but to make it to the Mid-American Conference Tournament, according to many of its players. But one problem stood in its way -- a lack of experience.

So head coach Ron Rainey went outside the United States in look of leadership. He came back with one of the best players in Canada -- Julie Pigozzo.

Now a graduate student, Pigozzo dreamed of playing soccer in the United States since she was a schoolgirl. While Pigozzo played seven sports in high school, she said her love has been soccer.

"When I was little I was made fun of for playing soccer," Pigozzo said. "In Canada, it's just hockey, hockey, hockey. But my dad is Italian and that's the way I was brought up."

Pigozzo, a Guelph, Ontario, native suffered a torn anterior crucial ligament after her senior year in high school and many of the schools recruiting her in the United States decided not to pursue her. So instead, she enrolled at Dalhousie University in Ontario.

After sitting out a year to rehabilitate her knee, the 23-year-old forward led the Tigers to Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union National Championships in 1999 and 2000, becoming the first school to repeat as CIAU champions.

Pigozzo was known for her style of play -- intense all the time. Pigozzo said that's what she has always done, trying to set the example for the team. And according to her father, Giuliano Pigozzo, her intensity level was that way in everything she did.

"It was always quite a challenge with her," Giuliano said. "She would always push herself so hard in every sport. I had to tell her to slow down and not over-do it."

Still, her father said Julie would not have it any other way.

"She always gave 150 percent of her own self for the team," Giuliano said. "But you only play as good as your team, and Julie has had some amazing teams to play for."

Those teams drove Julie to be the Atlantic University Athletic Association's leading scorer and Most Valuable Player in 2000, as well as All-CIAU -- Canada's version of the All-America team.

"I was really fortunate to keep having things stumble my way after my injuries," Julie said."I didn't really think about (the accomplishments), though. No one really plays for awards."

But Julie's dream was to play in the United States, and following the 2000 season, she got her chance. Ball State's head coach Ron Rainey recruited Julie to be a leader on a young team lacking the experience and leadership it needed to compete in the MAC. And according to Giuliano, it was no surprise.

"She always had that quality of leadership with her teams," Giuliano said. "She always the did her best for the team to be at the top level."

According to Julie, she did not want to come into a program and make enemies by being arrogant.

"I really don't talk about (the championships) that much," Julie said. "If someone is interested and asking why I have two gold rings on my fingers, I tell them the feeling of what it's like. I don't think people would take that in a way that I'm trying to show them what it feels like to win."

Finally, after her final season this fall, Julie helped lead Ball State to its first-ever MAC Tournament where they lost to Ohio on Tuesday. Again, it was her trademark intensity that enabled her to lead the team with 19 points for the season on eight goals and three assists.

"I just looked back on my four years and realized it was over," Julie said with a tear in her eye following Tuesday's game. "I couldn't be any more proud to be a part of this team. They never gave up."

With Julie's sight set on a possible coaching position with Ball State next fall, she said she is looking to play soccer in Italy. Nonetheless, the senior who was brought in for leadership said she did a lot of learning over the season.

"Coach gave me a chance to play at the NCAA level," Julie said. "And my way of giving that back to him is by playing hard and trying to lead by example and give this team leadership.

"But playing for Ball State has opened my eyes."


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