Jillian Strassner: From the pool to the pitch

Jamie Palatini

It’s pretty hard for most people to see a correlation between soccer and, say, swimming. Freshman forward Jillian Strassner of the Quinnipiac women’s soccer team says she can’t imagine growing up without either.

“Up until I came to college, I was a huge swimmer,” Strassner said. “My whole family swims – cousins, aunts and uncles – all when they were in college.”

The Avon, Conn., native has been making waves out of the pool ever since her arrival at Quinnipiac this fall. Strassner netted four goals this season, and was named Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year this past week. She was both a competitive swimmer and soccer player throughout her childhood, but in the end, soccer won out.

“I kept with swimming, but I didn’t love it,” Strassner said. “With soccer, I loved it and I was willing to put in the hours. But for swimming, I didn’t want to go to practice. I didn’t really want to compete. Once I was at competitions, I was like, ‘All right, cool’, but I never really loved it.”

Strassner has swum and played soccer for most of her life, picking up soccer when she was 6, and swimming for most of that time as well. From the start, soccer seemed to suit her just fine.

“I loved it from the beginning, and I was such a hyper kid, so running around was perfect for me,” she said.

When high school came around, the girl who was usually the star of her soccer team got a rude awakening her freshman year. She spent most of the season on the bench watching her team struggle with a losing record. The next season was when Strassner first realized that her dreams of playing soccer in college might become a reality.

“I got a starting spot and was All-State for Connecticut, and I was one of two people on my team that made it,” Strassner said. “I was a sophomore and the other girl was a senior. It was sophomore year when I thought that maybe I could get further than high school soccer.”

Strassner was named an All-Region player in her junior year, and an All-American in her senior season.

With the end of high school came the end of her competitive swimming career. Strassner acknowledged that while her love for soccer far exceeded that of swimming, she has some great memories in the pool.

“I swam on a boys’ team, and my senior year I got All-Conference,” Strassner said. “I don’t look very threatening, and I wouldn’t wear the fancy bathing suits or anything. I’d be against these huge guys, but it was awesome to get out of the pool and be like, ‘I just beat you.’ That was the best part about it.”

The two-sport star had plenty of options when it came time to choose where to continue her athletics and education, but making the choice to come to Quinnipiac was pretty simple.

“At first, I wanted to go to North or South Carolina with nice weather, because I hate cold weather. And of course, I ended up in Connecticut,” Strassner said. “I have little siblings, and I think with having such a young family, I wanted to stay close to them. They can come see all my games. My brother looks forward to coming to my games, and wants to miss his own to come to mine.”

Her family has seen her flourish as a Bobcat, and Strassner’s first season in college has far surpassed that of her first year in high school. She tallied four goals and three assists this season, ranking her second on the team in goals scored and points. Former freshman standout Furtuna Velaj, now a sophomore, said Strassner’s presence on the squad was immediately felt.

“When [Strassner] came in, she seemed unsure of what her role would be,” Velaj said. “But when I talked to coach [Dave] Clarke last year, he said that, ‘When [Strassner] and Shauna [Edwards] come in, you three are going to be our team’s attack.'”

Velaj’s goal total dipped from 15 to 11 this season, but her assist total skyrocketed from just one last season to eight this year. She’s not too bothered by the decrease in goals, because she knows rather than the team losing that production, it’s being spread out to players like Strassner.

“Just having [Strassner] on the team has helped us tremendously,” Velaj said. “It takes pressure away from me, and defenders can’t just defend me, they have to defend [Strassner]. She’s a really good player. She’s tough, she’s strong and she could run up and down the field a million times.”

The Bobcats’ first trip to the postseason in five years ended this past Friday with a 1-0 loss to Monmouth in the semifinals of the NEC Tournament. Despite the loss to end the season, Strassner is more than satisfied with the start of what looks to be a very promising college career.

“Freshman year has been all that I hoped for, and the team really welcomed me in, which didn’t happen at all in high school,” she said. “I think that it’s everything I could’ve asked for.”