Fifth-year Florida Gulf Coast University women's soccer coach Jim Blankenship does not like to give up goals.
A year ago the Eagles allowed just nine goals in more than 18 games en route to capturing their first Atlantic Sun Conference championship. This season, FGCU has given up 12 goals while going 5-3-1. Keep in mind, however, that the fledgling program – it's only been around for five years – is taking on the big players in women's soccer, such as the University of Florida and Syracuse University.
On Sept. 18 in Orlando, the Eagles held 15th-ranked Central Florida scoreless in a 0-0 double-overtime tie.
|Florida Golf Coast player, Ashley Ciesielczyk
(Clay) is one of the top rated soccer players
in the Athletic Sun Conference. (Photo by Jim
Dostie courtesy of FGCU)
FGCU, located in Fort Myers, Fla., competes in the Atlantic Sun against teams from Mercer, East Tennessee State, Kennesaw State, Jacksonville, North Florida, Belmont, Lipscomb, Stetson, and the University of South Carolina Upstate.
One of the Eagles' top performers is a transplant from Oregon, Ohio. Ashley Ciesielczyk, a 2008 graduate of Clay High School, was one of the most prolific scorers in Ohio Division I girls soccer history. As a forward for coach Scott Wamer's Eagles, Ciesielczyk finished her prep career with 61 career goals and 57 assists.
She scored 17 goals with 16 assists to lead Ohio Division I as a senior in 2008. Ciesielczyk, 21, a 5-foot-6 redshirt junior, is now a standout defender – that's right, defender – for FGCU.
“So far I'm having a pretty decent year playing defense and creating problems for other teams,” said Ciesielczyk, who took a medical redshirt as a freshman after breaking her foot for the third time. “Our defense is really strong. My sophomore year in the spring, my first year being able to play, I played midfield. Then one girl got hurt and I got an opportunity to play in the back.
“Being so aggressive, they threw me in the back and I pretty much fit back there. I love playing defense. I'm playing outside left, and I still have an offensive mindset. I don't regret playing defense. I love playing and being able to come out of the back, and my mindset is going forward and creating problems, which has worked for us.”
Blankenship, who likes to move his forwards to defense and have the team's defenders take more chances at scoring, said Ciesielczyk has fit right in in the defensive backfield..
“Her going there came about from an injury, when our starting left back got hurt and couldn't play in the spring two years ago,” the coach said. “Ashley was very good and technically sound - and left-footed - so we moved Ashley back to play left back and we wound up playing very well that spring.
“We beat Florida and we beat Miami that spring and she did extremely well. She has the freedom to move forward. She has been a striker her whole life, so she has that mentality. But, this has worked out well for us and worked out well for her.”
One of Blankenship's former assistants, Mario Rincon, who is now an assistant women's coach at West Point, tried to recruit Ciesielczyk to play soccer at Wright State University near Dayton after her senior year at Clay. Rincon then moved to FGCU, and she followed him there.
“After he made the move down here, he e-mailed me and my mom (Melinda) and said he was coaching at Gulf Coast,” Ciesielczyk said. “I took the opportunity. Mario left two years ago, after my sophomore year after fall season. I was surprised he was leaving because the program was so new. He said he had such a good opportunity to go to West Point, which we understood.”
Ciesielczyk said sitting out her freshman year to recuperate from her third injury to the same foot did more good than harm.
“It was hard and it was disappointing not being able to play,” she said. “I got to learn a lot sitting on the sidelines. Being a freshman, you usually don't get that much playing time, so I was sitting out and learning the college atmosphere and the techniques they use. That actually helped me understand the game better. When I came back in the spring, I got my opportunity.”
As a redshirt freshman in 2009, Ciesielczyk played in all 19 games and was part of a back line that shut out nine opponents, including three in conference play. The marketing major also earned A-Sun All-Academic honors.
Last year, as a redshirt sophomore, Ciesielczyk played in 15 games and started 13 in the midfield. She did miss two games with a concussion, but she finished with eight points off two goals and four assists and scored game-winning goals against UNF and Belmont.
Winning the school's first conference title in women's soccer in 2010, Ciesielczyk said, “meant a lot, especially for the girls who had been here for years.”
“Sending them out with a championship meant a lot,” she said. “It was great to send them out on a winning note.”
Ciesielczyk has started all nine games this season and has one goal and four assists.
“She's high energy and very, very competitive,” Blankenship said. “She hates to lose. She has a high energy level and she's very intense and knowledgeable of the game. She's a really driven kid. She's what you're looking for - very, very competitive at every single situation in the game and in training. She's really demanding of herself and her teammates, and she's done very well here with her career.”