Senior Spotlight: Ally Lee

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville University women’s soccer team (10-6-0, 5-2-0 A-Sun) concludes its regular season this weekend with two matches at Southern Oak Stadium. The Kennesaw State Owls (7-7-1, 4-2-1 A-Sun) pay a visit on Friday night at 7 pm. On Sunday, the Dolphins celebrate Senior Day for Brooke Comans, Ally Lee and Adriana Rodrigues when they take on the Mercer Bears (9-6-2, 4-2-1 A-Sun) at 2 pm. Both matches will air live on ASun.TV.

This week’s spotlight looks at Lee, a fixture in the Jacksonville lineup for the past four seasons and this season’s Preseason Atlantic Sun Defender of the Year. The Dolphin center-back has started from the very beginning of her time at JU, and her importance to the team has only grown as her career has progressed. One of only 30 candidates across all of Division I women’s soccer for the Senior CLASS Award this season, Lee’s legacy to the program will be felt both on and off the field.

Growing up as the youngest child in a family with three older brothers, Lee was a natural athlete and helped along by competing against her bigger siblings. Entering Mandarin High School here in Jacksonville, she immediately made the varsity volleyball team in her freshman year, and followed that up by making varsity in flag football and soccer. By the time she left Mandarin, she was one of a small handful of female athletes to ever achieve 12 varsity letters at the school. Still, soccer was always her priority even with the busy schedule that came with playing three sports.

“Soccer was always what was going to allow me to go and play Division I,” said Lee. “Volleyball I played to stay active and be with friends, and flag football was just for fun.”

Between her senior season at Mandarin – in which she was named to the All-State team – and her time playing club soccer for First Coast Kicks (now Jacksonville FC), Lee had plenty of interest from programs across the country. One of those was Iowa State. Though at first she had her heart set on going away for school, circumstances and a visit to Iowa helped change her mind.

“We went to Iowa in March and I was wearing shorts and flip-flops. We got off the plane and I looked around and I’m just like, it’s snowing. It’s snowing in March,” Lee said with a smile. “I knew it snowed up there, but I was a little too Florida to make that change. I stepped off the plane and I was just like…no.”

Fortunately Head Coach Brian Copham and his staff always had Lee on their radar. The chance for immediate playing time and an education program that will have Lee graduating with her master’s degree next year sold her on the university.

With her college choice made, Lee came aboard but was forced to move to center-back after being recruited as an outside-back. Despite playing near each other on the field much of the time, the responsibilities and demands of the positions are entirely different. Making that transition as a freshman wasn’t always the easiest, especially when matched up with a high-octane opponent.

“My first match at center-back came at Florida, who was ranked No. 7 in the country at the time,” remembered Lee. “I was completely lost, I felt like I was running around in circles at times. The week after, the other senior center-back pulled me aside and talked to me about things I could do at the position and how I needed to communicate.”

Not that her freshman season was a lost cause. By the time the season ended, Jacksonville had put together a record of 13-5-2, including nine shutouts. In a season in which she made 17 starts, Lee was a shoo-in for the Atlantic Sun All-Freshman Team. However, her real growth came in spring practice.

After the departure of her center-back partner, Lee was suddenly one of the elder statesmen in the defense and Copham was quick to put her to the test. Running his team through a variety of silent drills, Lee was the only player on the field allowed to talk. Though she characterized those practices as “brutal,” she quickly came to realize that her role was to communicate everything she could to those around her and to be the eyes on the field for the entire team.

Along with having those communication responsibilities within her squad, Lee also must contend with the attacking forwards for whoever the Dolphins are matched up against. To get ready for the challenges of each week she scours video and recaps of each upcoming opponent, but also relies on the coaching staff in practice sessions to gets bits of information that will help her and her defense hold the other team in check. A perfect example of this came earlier this month, when Lipscomb’s Ellen Lundy entered a Friday night match with Jacksonville ranked among the top 10 in the nation in goals scored. 90 minutes later, Lundy had not even attempted a shot on the night and the Bisons had sent just one single shot on goal as the Dolphins came away with a 2-0 victory.

Such is the reality for any forward going up against Lee and the Jacksonville defense. With her on the field, the Dolphins have posted 24 shutouts in the last four seasons. Lee’s acceptance of the physicality of her position on the field and willingness to clean up any mess that encroaches on the Jacksonville goal earned her All-Atlantic Sun first team and National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) All-Southeast Region third team honors as a junior, plus her Preseason Defender of the Year Award from both coaches and fans of Atlantic Sun soccer back in August.

Winning five of the last six matches has allowed Jacksonville to clinch a berth into the A-Sun Tournament and ensure that Lee’s career as well as those of her fellow seniors will extend beyond this weekend. Entering Friday in second place in the conference, the Dolphins can secure a first-round bye – and the 12 days of rest that come with it – with a pair of wins over Kennesaw State and Mercer, two teams nipping at their heels in the standings. If they can win both, there’s even a chance that the team could host the tournament if other results around the league fall the right way. For now though, the focus is on the task at hand.

“I wouldn’t want to play against anyone else to close the regular season and on Senior Day,” said Lee. “We’ve struggled with both teams and it would mean so much to go out with a win because of what’s happened against them in the past. Kennesaw State has kept us from a higher seed and Mercer has knocked us out of a couple tournaments. With this weekend being what it is, there isn’t anyone else I’d rather face for my last go at it.”

Head Coach Brian Copham on Ally Lee:
“Ally is a player who has continued to grow and improve as a soccer player in her entire time at JU. She is one of the hardest-working players we have and her hard work has been rewarded with the success we’ve had on the field. She’s the anchor of our back line and has been a great captain who has always led by example. She’s a gifted athlete that competes every time she’s stepped inside the lines.”

Kennesaw State at Jacksonville
Overall: Kennesaw State leads, 6-5-0
First Meeting: The Owls claimed a 1-0 win on Sept. 25, 2005
Last Meeting: Two goals from Katrina Frost gave KSU a 2-1 victory on Oct. 14, 2012 in Kennesaw, Ga.
Notable: Jacksonville had kept a clean sheet in three straight meetings with the Owls before last season’s loss. Kennesaw State has relied on its defense to carry it this year. KSU has managed a total of 14 goals in its 15 matches, and have been shut out on six occasions. On the flip side, the Owls have also shut out six opponents on the season, including both Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast last weekend.

Mercer at Jacksonville
Mercer leads, 12-9-2
First Meeting: Long-time conference rivals, Mercer and JU first met on Sept. 14, 1997 in Jacksonville. The Bears came away with a 5-1 victory.
Last Meeting: A goal within the first five minutes of the second half stood up, seeing Mercer through with a 1-0 win on Oct. 12, 2012 in Macon, Ga.
Notable: Jacksonville has met Mercer on the soccer field more times than any other opponent. The two sides met each other in four consecutive A-Sun Tournaments from 2008-11. Four of the last five matchups between the two have ended in 1-0 score lines, with the Dolphins standing at 1-3 on those four occasions.