Like she did so many times in her high school career, Jamie Althiser walked off the pitch at the Moline Soccer Bowl with a win.
Althiser enjoyed a homecoming Sunday as she and the Northern Iowa women's soccer team beat Eastern Illinois 4-0 in an exhibition match, a unique way for the former Moline standout to start her senior season.
"It was really fun and being with a different team here, it brought back old memories on the field," Althiser said. "I'm glad we could get a 4-0 win here, it felt really good because it's probably my last time playing on this field."
Althiser had plenty of success while with the Maroons. She was a two-time all-stater and is Moline's all-time leading scorer with 82 career goals, leaving a lasting legacy for the program.
"It's certainly nice to have an opportunity to come out and watch some of your ex-players come out and compete at the collegiate level," said Rick Sanchez, who was the coach of both soccer programs at Moline before focusing on the boys program two years ago. "Jamie has been a huge part of our women's program and to be able to have the opportunity to come back and promote the game of soccer here in the community was our biggest objective."
Setting up the game took a few years, starting when Sanchez reached out to Bruce Erickson after Erickson took over the UNI program in 2017.
There had been talk about playing an exhibition game in the spring, but Erickson mentioned the possibility of instead opening up the fall season. With Moline a relative midpoint between UNI and EIU, and with Althiser entering her senior year, it became a relatively easy game to organize.
"My biggest thing was to try and help them minimize travel and expenses and give us an opportunity to bring Division I level soccer to the area and give our community an opportunity to see that," Sanchez said. "It was fun to have an opportunity to promote the game of soccer as a whole in our community."
That was certainly accomplished as UNI fans set up a small tailgate in the parking lot of Moline High School, and there was also a smattering of Eastern Illinois blue in the crowd.
But it was ultimately a way to celebrate Althiser. Each time Althiser's name was announced during the game, there were several cheers from the bleachers, including when she was announced in the starting lineup.
"Some of my friends and close family haven't been able to see me play since high school, so it was fun for them not to have to travel two-and-a-half hours to see me play," she said. "Just come down the street and watch me play a game."
In three years with the Panthers, Althiser has played in 55 games, starting five, and has scored eight goals and added three assists.
Though it's not quite the production she enjoyed in high school, Althiser's game has still evolved.
"I'm definitely a smarter player, especially going onto my senior year, I think I've matured as a player and got better off the ball too, rather than just on the ball," Althiser said. "I'm taking on a different role, I'm a senior on the team, so I have the younger people look up to me and that's also got me more confident and I've been able to step up my game."
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Throughout the game, Althiser showed the ability that helped her lead the Maroons. Starting the game as an outside midfielder, one of her first touches was a shot from long range that set up a corner kick for the Panthers.
Clearly looking to score, Althiser had a few other chances but was called offsides on a free kick and had a contested shot roll just wide in the 40th minute after being moved to forward.
"When she's at her best, she's a great attacking player," Erickson said. "Just trying to find her a position this year where, not only she can earn it but she can help us. So playing a little bit up front, started the game at midfield and it won't be long, she'll get going. She probably had the best spring of any of our players and has had a good preseason so far."
Althiser also had two looks from inside the penalty box in the second half, but one was stopped by the EIU keeper and the other was kicked away at the last second by an opposing defender.
Johnnie Hill had a hat trick and Jordyn Rolli added a goal for UNI in the game.
"I was kind of nervous just because I wanted to end it with a win," Althiser said. "I did (want to score) but the team got it done, so we got the win."
Though she didn't register a point, Althiser was plus-3 in about 75 minutes of playing time, a testament to her increased conditioning.
"She's worked extremely hard in the offseason," Erickson said. "This is the best, fitness-wise I think she's come in in my three years here and that's all through hard work. She's just worked her tail off and leads the way for us in our summer workouts."
Althiser has also spent the summer with FC Wichita, a semi-professional soccer club in the Women's Premier Soccer League.
"I think that really helped getting in game shape and being able to play at a high level," Althiser said. "Get the opportunity that most people don't have in the summer."
Althiser has big expectations, but they're mainly team-based as the Panthers look to win the first conference title in program history. Erickson thinks Althiser could play a large role if that happens.
"We need her to be a scorer, we need her to get some goals," Erickson said. "We're going to hopefully spread that around some this year but she's one that we're kind of counting on that can get us eight to 10 goals at least. I think she'll do it.
"I think this is going to be a big year for her."