By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Ashleigh Ellenwood is all about helping others achieve success.
Whether it’s working to take the Arkansas soccer program to new heights or preparing to serve others in her future career in medicine, Ellenwood is focused on the big picture and not her own accomplishments.
Ellenwood was a standout prep player at Michigan City High School in Indiana, where she earned all-conference honors and scored a school-record 32 goals in 2008. A three-sport athlete, Ellenwood was an all-conference tennis player and also suited up for basketball.
In Ellenwood’s senior year of high school, the Razorbacks finished the 2011 campaign just 4-14 and the University of Arkansas decided to make a coaching change.
That December, the school hired Colby Hale, a long-time associate head coach at the University of Central Florida, where he had helped then-head coach Amanda Cromwell revitalize a once-dominant UCF program His last season in Orlando, Hale helped the Knights reach the NCAA Regional Finals, including wins against nationally ranked Florida and North Carolina teams. UCF finished the season ranked 12th in the nation.
It was immediately apparent to Ellenwood that Hale had the ability and dedication to mold the Arkansas program into a national contender. The opportunity to help build the program from the ground floor was one that was very appealing to Ellenwood.
“I think that was the most interesting part about coming to Arkansas,” Ellenwood said. “One of our main goals is to leave a legacy; our names will be the ones that changed the program forever. I wanted to change how Arkansas was viewed and, being a part of something like that, is very important to me.”
The situation proved to be a perfect fit for Ellenwood, who immediately meshed with her teammates and felt right at home in Northwest Arkansas.
“I thought that my transition from club to college was going to be very tough,” she said. “But I don’t think I could have come into a better situation. These girls are going to be like sisters to me for the rest of my life.”
Hale knew that Ellenwood would be a game-changing player who would help him lay a solid foundation in Fayetteville. As a freshman, Ellenwood led her team with six goals, playing in all 20 matches and earning SEC All-Freshman Team honors and SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll accolades.
“She was actually voted by her peers to be on our leadership council her freshman year, which is the first time I’ve been around someone who did that,” Hale said. “She is a big part of what we’re doing both on and off the field. We took over a program that had not had a lot of success. She really bought into the idea of making her mark and changing some of the perceptions and ideas about Razorback Soccer.”
Through 16 games of the 2013 season, Ellenwood ranks seventh in the SEC with 1.62 points per game, having scored 10 goals and assisted on six more. She has five game-winning goals in 2013 and her team is 8-1 in games in which she scores at least one goal.
According to her coach, Ellenwood has the ability to embrace the clutch moments and pressure situations in order to lead the Razorbacks to victory.
“In and around the box, she’s a special player,” Hale said. “She has a lot of good qualities. Whenever it’s time to score a goal, whatever that is that top players have – a lot of coaches talk about x-factors or intangibles – she has it.”
All of those numbers would be enough to classify Ellenwood as a star on the Arkansas team. But don’t tell her that.
“I think that I am a hard-worker and just try to do what’s best for my team,” Ellenwood said. “It all reverts back to the team. If it wasn’t for them – my teammates, coaching staff and everyone who supports us – I obviously wouldn’t be where I am today. We try to win for our seniors and they hold very high standards for us.”
Still, it might be tough to find anyone who sets higher standards for Ellenwood than she does for herself. The 5-foot-9 sophomore is a chemistry major in the University of Arkansas Honors College, where she boasts a 3.78 grade-point average.
“My family definitely made it a point that I am a student-athlete and student comes first,” Ellenwood said. “Academics aren’t really a choice. School has always been important. I have great family support and great friend support that has kept me on the goal path that I want.”
Ellenwood has had one of her main goals in mind from a very early age.
“In fifth grade, we had a woman come in that worked in anesthesiology who was the mom of one of the kids in my brother’s class,” Ellenwood recalled. “Ever since then, I have wanted to go into medicine, go to med school and become a doctor. I want to be able to affect someone’s life with what I do.”
She has an interest in surgery and calls it her dream to be an anesthesiologist.
“I think helping anyone in any sort of way would be nice,” Ellenwood said. “Being able to help someone every day and change people’s lives is important to me.”
Hale feels that his pupil has all of the necessary qualities to be successful in her life post-soccer.
“When you’re going to med school, there’s a talent that’s necessary and she has that,” Hale said. “There are going to be some very difficult times, some all-nighters and even some set-backs, but she responds to those things so well in the soccer environment. She has the ability, in the concept of the team, to do things that she might not necessarily want to do or like to do. She will make the sacrifices and she has the discipline and toughness to be successful.”
As much as Ellenwood has accomplished in her less than two years at Arkansas, Hale knows that Ellenwood’s best soccer is ahead of her.
“The thing that I stress to her is that she can’t be comfortable,” Hale said. “We’ve had a lot of firsts in our program last year and this year. The key for her is that there are still a lot of things that she’s got to work on. She has to keep her hunger. If she does that and works on the things where she needs improvement, the sky is the limit.”
That shouldn’t be a problem for Ellenwood, for whom complacency is the furthest thing from her mind. She is excited about the strides the Razorbacks have made to advance their program, but knows that there is much work to be done.
Arkansas, which is 11-5 on the year, is one of two Southeastern Conference soccer programs that have never made an NCAA Tournament appearance. Among the team’s many goals, earning the team’s first NCAA Tournament berth is near the top of the list.
“We’re definitely in the correct mindset, but we’re not done,” she said. “We haven’t met all of our goals – we’d like to win the SEC Tournament and hopefully make it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time. We know that we’ve been successful so far, but those have been our goals.”
Ellenwood appears to have her team poised to achieve its goals and reach the next level. While she may be the player in the spotlight for Arkansas, perhaps Ellenwood’s best quality is her penchant for using her many talents to help others achieve their dreams.
“Whenever a reporter wants to talk to a player after the game, it’s going to be the person who scored the game-winning goal,” Hale said. “Because of that, she gets pushed into the spotlight and she is comfortable scoring that game-winning goal but, for her, it’s not about that.
“All she wants to do is win,” Hale said. “Even though she plays an important role and is a goal-scorer, she is going to always push it back to the team. She is not in it for the personal glory.”