With just over 10 minutes remaining in Saturday’s playoff soccer match and the University of Portland still looking for a breakthrough, Ellie Boon took on a pair of Seattle University players.
Getting beyond them, the freshman from Washougal found herself with the ball near the goal line in the left side of the penalty area.
Seconds later, the Pilots had the goal that sent them to the second round of the NCAA women’s soccer tournament for the 14th consecutive season.
“I had two people wide open, so it was actually pretty easy,” Boon said, describing the pass that led to Danica Evans’ 79th-minute goal in a 2-0 win in the first round of the tournament. The Pilots, ranked No. 7 in the most recent coaches’ poll and seeded No. 3 in the tournament, face Illinois at 9 a.m. Friday at Lincoln, Neb.
A win there would advance Portland to the national quarterfinals for the 16th time. They would play at 11 a.m. PDT on Sunday against Boston College or Nebraska.
The key assist against Seattle at Merlo Field was a thrilling moment for Boon, who started dreaming about playing for the Pilots eight years ago. She is happy to be contributing at the end of a freshman season that has featured, highs, lows, and a whole lot of growth.
“There’s nothing like being able to practice day in and day out with great players,” Boon said. “It pushes you every day to be better.”
She said she experiences that improvement through making quicker decisions on and off the ball, in addition to being physically faster and stronger than she was when the season began.
She has played in 18 of the Pilots 20 games, starting 11 times. She is one of several freshmen who have been called upon to contribute for the Pilots.
“As a freshman, you have just as much responsibility as anyone else does,” Boon said.
Midseason injuries to teammates increased Boon’s responsibility. She has seen time as a wide midfield player. But it is as a wide defender that Boon has become a regular in the lineup, starting nine consecutive games at left back in place of injured Michelle Cruz.
Never mind that Boon made a name for herself as a dynamic goal scorer in youth soccer and at Washougal High School, she said she is right at home at right back or left back. She played the position at youth national team camps, and said she has always played with a defense-first mindset. And, as was the case last Saturday, outside backs have chances to be involved in the attack.
Despite scoring the goal in the Pilots second match of the season, a 1-0 win at Oregon (her only goal to go with three assists so far) the early stages of the season tested Boon’s patience. She was getting into games, but often just for 10 or 15 minutes at a time, a new experience for her.
Still, Boon found the college soccer environment less stressful than national-team camps where one bad day can result in a trip home.
Noting that the Pilots have invested a four-year scholarship in her, Boon called it “refreshing” to have coaches who are motivated to see her succeed.
“I’ve grown a lot,” Boon said. “I’m really excited to see how much I can improve over the next four years.”