by Alex Gleyzer, staff reporter
With the Wildcats historic success this year, one of the biggest surprises has come from behind the bench. Along with Ed Uhrik and Kevin Lennon, coaches, Leo Elizalde, assistant coach, has joined the staff.
Elizalde returns to Wheeling after spending four years at Dominican University. During his time with the Wildcats, Elizalde was named to two conference teams and a player of the year award.
Playing for both coach Uhrik and Lennon in high school helped his success at Wheeling. Elizalde captained the Wildcats to a playoff race in 2008, and a historic season of his own with a player of the year award.
After displaying his skills in high school, Elizalde joined the talented soccer team in Dominican University. While at Dominican, Elizalde and his teammates made it to the round of 32 every year in the NCAA Division 3 playoffs, with an appearance to the final four his freshman year.
“We had four outstanding seniors my freshman year with all four them being captains. They helped lead the team that year and knew the expectations of the program. The fan support during the playoffs was great, especially for the final four,” Elizalde said.
Entering his freshman year, Elizalde would face adversity early on with a torn MCL. This injury would cause him to miss the first two weeks of the season.
However, the constant hard work to return and improve would help Elizalde in the long run. Elizalde’s never give up attitude would land him a two year captaincy role in Dominican and continued trips to the NCAA playoffs.
In his four years at Dominican, Elizalde and his teammates would contribute to the Dominican soccer program by continuing the school’s record run of conference victories. Dominican University would set the NCAA record for most conference wins at 104.
Along with a dominant soccer career at Dominican, Elizalde graduated with a degree in Criminology and Sociology.
After graduating from Dominican, Elizalde remained close to his Wheeling roots settling close to the suburbs looking for a job. While searching for a career, Elizalde was given an opportunity to come back to Wheeling to coach for the 2013 season. After some time to think, he accepted the opportunity and claimed his spot along the bench.
“I never thought of applying for the coaching position when it opened up. I received the call from coach Uhrik and after I thought about it, I was all for it. I was excited to return back to the place that exposed me to Dominican, and I was ready to pass along my knowledge,” Elizalde said.
Elizalde joined the coaching staff wasting no time getting settled. His constant stress on the players efforts and new ideas helped the Wildcats become better players on and off the field.
“High school was all about hard work, and college really taught me how to play my position and the game. I was excited to add my knowledge and experience to the team with the talented guys we have,” Elizalde said.
“Leo (Elizalde) is amazing. He knows about college soccer and what it takes to win at that level. Leo constantly pushes us and expects us to play at our best every time we go out on the field,” Jose Garcia, senior, added.
Elizalde’s experience at Wheeling with both coach Uhrik and Lennon would land him in familiar territory. With a skilled group of players returning this year, Elizalde, along with Uhrik and Lennon, looks to help the team any way he can to achieve the state trophy.
“He really pushed us in the pre-season to train and play hard. He has a lot of experience to add and understands the game very well,” Alfredo Rocha, senior, said
“He has supported us during the whole ride from the pre-season to now and it has really helped us as a team,” Fabian Acosta Jr., junior, said.
With the Cats punching their ticket to the state semi-finals, Elizalde looks to continue to push his team, and enjoy every moment the final two games will provide. After this season, Elizalde will return to his search for a career in Criminology and Sociology and still contribute to his roots.
“I’m really happy that I’ve been able to teach the guys about the game, and come back to Wheeling. The one thing I learned is that it’s all about the team and the guys here get it. Every guy on this team would gladly give up their individual accomplishments for the state trophy. I know that if I was able to make It to Dominican, then every one of these guys can make it too,” Elizalde commented.