Eckert sees uptick in production for women’s soccer, becoming leader on, off the pitch

Elaina+Eckert+%2817%29+being+introduced+during+the+starting+lineup+ahead+of+Marquettes+3-2+win+over+Illinois+State+Feb.+7.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Marquette+Athletics.%29

Elaina Eckert (17) being introduced during the starting lineup ahead of Marquette’s 3-2 win over Illinois State Feb. 7. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

One season ago, then-junior Elaina Eckert saw an increase in minutes for Marquette women’s soccer. But even with the uptick in time, the stats were not there to back up her journey to that point in her career. 

One year later, the forward has earned four straight starts and has improved her contributions both on and off the field for the Golden Eagles. 

Fellow senior Maddie Monticello said it has been awesome seeing her best friend beginning to contribute to MU. 

“It’s so exciting. I remember freshman, sophomore year when she didn’t get as many minutes. Those are tough conversations because it’s really tiring and exhausting,” Monticello said. “Of course, you’re here for the team but you want to play. So I think having those conversations to be like, ‘just stick with it, trust the process, it’s gonna pay off’ and to see it finally pay off, it’s really special.” 

The Warren, Michigan native’s journey to where she is now with the Golden Eagles actually began when she was in grade school.

Early Career 

For many youth athletes, it is common to have dreams of playing at the collegiate level for either a specific program or at a specific venue. Eckert is no exception. 

Back when Eckert was 13 years old, she attended a game at Valley Fields with her Vardar Club Soccer teammates. 

“It was just such a really fun feel down at Valley,” Eckert said. “We were kind of in the student section and everyone was having a good time. So I was like, ‘this is really awesome. I would love to maybe play at Valley one day,’ it was just such a cool environment.”

Eckert said her first game at Valley as a Golden Eagle was surreal, but it was the friendly environment in the student section that drew her to Milwaukee. 

“When I came to Marquette, it just had a totally different feel than all the other universities I visited,” Eckert said. “It was just a really welcoming environment and all the people here were super friendly. Even just walking around campus, people would smile at you. So that was really it, just felt kind of like home when I got on campus.” 

Like many college students, Eckert arrived at Marquette undecided in search of finding a major that interested her. 

Combined interests in science, English and language led Eckert to major in speech pathology and audiology. 

“I kind of had no clue what I really wanted to do but I was looking for something where I felt like I was going to be making a difference every day,” Eckert said. “So speech-path was kind of the perfect mix of all (that) coming together. So that’s what really brought me to the major.”

During Eckert’s first two seasons at MU, she only saw time in a combined six of 43 games, which Eckert said was difficult. 

“It was definitely tough at first, coming in, not really playing and going through that the first couple years. But I wouldn’t change it at all,” Eckert said. “Because I think the adversity has really helped me grow a lot and I think I did learn a lot of really good, important lessons.”

Looking back, Eckert said she learned two big lessons from that experience, which have stayed with her today. 

“One of the biggest things that sticks with me is that you just really have to work really hard for the things you want. It sounds cliché but my dad, growing up, had always told me you need to believe in yourself or else no one else will,” Eckert said. “That was kind of the biggest thing even when you’re not playing, even when you just have to keep believing in yourself and keep pushing on.”

The second lesson helped her find her role on the team. 

“Even if you’re not playing, you still play an important role on the team,” Eckert said. “You can influence everyone else by just your attitude, just the way that you’re willing to work at practice and the way you’re willing to support your teammates.”

Monticello said she would keep Eckert motivated by reminding her to be confident.

“I think that has honestly helped her get on the field a lot,” Monticello said. “Because if you’re scared and timid, a coach isn’t gonna want to really play you in a Big East Championship or something like that. So I think once she finally got comfortable with who she is, utilizing those strengths she has and being confident has really helped her get to where she is now.”

Senior Season 

Last season, Eckert experienced several changes from seeing the biggest jump in increased action to a change in the program’s coaching staff. 

Eckert said she embraced the “clean slate” within the program as she headed into her final season.

Pelaez said once he came to MU last January and got to know Eckert, one thing they worked on was reaffirming her confidence.

“To me it was just letting her know that I think she has a lot of talent. Just letting her know that and kind of confirming I wanted her to constantly work on whatever she was good at and not worry about what she thinks she needs to get better,” Pelaez said. “I think she really got into that groove of, ‘I can score goals’ because she’s very athletic, fast, quick and she’s nonstop.” 

Pelaez said over winter break Eckert told him a message that stuck with him.

“She told me she did a lot of self-reflection during the break and she wanted to be more of a leader when it comes to helping the younger ones out and guiding them through things,” Pelaez said. “That, to me, is awesome because she’s taking responsibility, control and ownership.” 

Eckert said she hopes to bring some speed to the Golden Eagles’ offensive attack this season. 

Both Monticello and Pelaez mentioned that Eckert’s bubbly, smiley personality serves as one of her biggest additions to the team.

“She brings a really good positive outlook. She’s someone who is like, if she’s not talking, she’s always smiling,” Monticello said. “She’s like ‘let’s get the next one,’ you won’t really hear her yelling at someone on the field. And you need a balance of that on teams.” 

Pelaez said Eckert’s positive energy and smile is one of the first things he saw in the 5-foot-4 forward. 

“I want to be surrounded by people who make me smile. If you surround yourself with people that you are having fun with, it makes everything a lot better and Elaina is that person,” Pelaez said. “She just has this smile about her that she enjoys it (and) it’s not a job. It’s that kind of stuff that is contagious.”

Eckert scored her first career goal at MU in a 3-2 nonconference win over Illinois State Feb. 7. 

“It was incredible,” Eckert said. “It kind of was like just a surreal experience, a build-up over the years like I’ve been working for this and starting to pay off.”

Leader on, off the pitch 

As Eckert found her role on the team, she also found a way to become a leader, a servant leader.

“I wouldn’t really consider myself a vocal leader,” Eckert said. “But I think that’s one of the coolest things that I’ve seen throughout my experience here. That’s one of the things that kind of sticks with being the kind of leader that I want to be. The one that’s there to support everyone else and to bring everyone along.”

Monticello said Eckert also brings a sense of calmness onto the field. 

“It makes a lot of underclassmen feel super comfortable,” Monticello said. “I know she has great relationships with a lot of the underclassmen and they can come to me for some things and come to her for some things. And that’s really special to have on our team.”

Though Eckert has contributed to the stat sheet this year for MU, Pelaez said it is her leadership that truly speaks volumes. 

“I don’t look at just the goals and I’ve told them all that. I want them all to (think) can they make that person next to them the best they can,” Pelaez said. “If they all keep doing that to each other, it just comes full circle. So I think her nonstop energy, (which) I haven’t seen a day off on her yet, is starting to creep up on the other ones which is where you want to get to.”

Monticello said her friendship with Eckert has grown closer over the last two years, as they have lived together and are trying to create some concrete change together.

She said a reason for that is the ability to have conversations about both soccer and the bigger picture of life.

“Soccer is a small tidbit of what we are here at Marquette,” Monticello said. “So I think what’s really cool is we have soccer with this common ground and then we’re able to have these really powerful conversations to help make change and help reach out to people because we could talk about way more than just soccer.” 

Outside of having one last chance to win a BIG EAST title, Eckert’s goals for the remainder of the season are simple. 

“I would like to say that I want to keep scoring but I want to focus on the things that I can definitely control,” Eckert said. “That’s the amount of work that I put in and how hard I play and how aggressive I am.” 

This story was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at john.leuzzi@marquette.edu or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU