Jilly Shimkin

By Michael Lewis

For Jilly Shimkin, it was love at first sight.

When she was around three- or four-years-old, Shimkin attended a soccer clinic in her hometown of Rockville Centre, N.Y.

"I wound up being really good at it," she said as Shimkin started playing the beautiful game in kindergarten.

When she went to a winter clinic at the Paul Riley Soccer School with a friend at the age of seven, Shimkin impressed one coach who told them to join a travel team.

She wound up playing a year up, so the learning curve was high in so many ways.

"It was really funny," Shimkin said. "We lost every single game, but it made me much better as a player."

Today, Jilly Shimkin is one of the best players on Long Island, so good that she has played for the youth national team. So good that she committed to Penn State University as an eighth-grader.

That's right, Shimkin wasn't in high school just yet.

Riley, the Albertson director of football, had coached many promising young players over the years who have gone on to play for top Division I college teams and professionally. That includes Crystal Dunn, Allie Long, Cari Roccaro, Mary Speck, Jasmyne Spencer, the three DiMartino sisters from Massapequa.

He placed Shimkin in that group.

"I think she's at the level of all of them," he said. "She's super talented. She's a soccer brainiac. She has small frame, probably a Debinha-type frame, but so good on the ball."

That would be Brazilian international Debinha, a 5-2 midfielder who plays for Riley's North Carolina Courage team, the National Women's Soccer League defending champions.

Shimkin is 5-2 and l05 lbs., but as we have discovered in soccer good things, sometimes very good things, come in small packages.

Oh, Riley wasn't finished with describing Shimkim.

"Great acceleration, great balance. She's a mini-Messi almost," he added.

Hmmm, Lionel Messi? Again, pretty damn good company.

"Lovely left foot, good right foot, two good feet, can do anything with the ball," Riley continued. "Loves to beat players, loves to create, loves to score. She has a lot of great tools and her work ethic is phenomenal both in practice and in games. Can be a difference maker down the road as long as she trains hard and do a lot of right things to get herself better. I am excited to see where she can go."

At the moment, Shimkin is a member of the FC Fury 2003 team, which competes in the U.S. Soccer Development Soccer Academy. She had to forgo high school soccer, not playing at South Side High in Rockville Centre, which has a storied soccer history. But she felt it was worth it, given her development as a player.

"I think that the DA was going to make me better and I was going to get more looks from national team coaches, Shimkin said. "Playing in such a new league, obviously, it was a risk because ECNL was very steady at that point. But I knew I wanted to develop as a player and as a person and that was the right fit for me."

"I love training four days a week. It's really good for our team, just getting us better as a group. I also think the one game a week really helps us. Some of the games are super competitive and just me playing up definitely challenges me against bigger and strong players."

By the way, it's interesting that Riley mentioned Debinha and Messi, because a Brazilian -- Marta -- and Messi are Shimkin's two favorite players.

"She's amazing," Shimkin said of Marta. "Just the total package. For men's players, definitely Messi. He's the best in the world by far.

Now, not many players decide on what college they will attend before they attend high school, but Shimkin was sold performing for the Nittany Lions early on.

Added Riley: "I think she's going to a place that suits her style."

She attended an ID camp, where players were coached by guest coaches. Penn State women's Erica Dambach was the leader of Shimkin's group.

"We just had really good chemistry," she said. "Last year I went to their [Penn State's] ID camp and I just fell in love with the school. A couple of days later I committed. It was just a family atmosphere up there. I'm going to be playing when I get there with such amazing players. It's going to be like a national training practice every single day. You can't ask for anything better."

Shimkin, who recently turned 16, plans on majoring in communications at Penn State. Her older brother will be attending the school, concentrating on the same subject.

"I would love to play professionally," she said. "That's my main goal. After that, there are so many jobs that you can get with a communications degree."

Shimkin hopes she won't have to apply her major until much later in life. At the professional level, she could perform domestically or abroad. She also has a goal would love to play for the full U.S. women's national team someday.

"Those are just huge goals for me," she said. "If I keep working hard, then I'll achieve them.

"A professional career would be so cool to have. National team you would be representing your country. It would be an insane honor. Both would be ideal, but whatever happens, happens.

"You feel insane pride for your country. To be able to wear the jersey and the crest, you just feel so special. It's such an amazing honor and a privilege. You just get emotional every single time when you're listening to the national anthem and just standing there."

She has gotten a taste of what it is like at the international, suiting up for the U.S. for the U.S. Under-15 national side. Not surprisingly, she has made an impact already.

In the team's 2-2 draw with the Netherlands on June 12, 2018, Shimkin scored a dramatic equalizer off a 25-yard free kick four minutes into stoppage time in an international friendly in Woerden, Netherlands.

"As soon as I hit and it went in, the whistle blew," she said. "It was a nail-biter.

"What's funny Is that i'm a non-free kick taker. I had been practicing them just in case I had to take them before I went to the Netherlands. I didn't really expect to take a free kick but I ended up having to. My coach at the time, she was like, 'Go take it' and it went in. It was really cool."

So was her goal against China in a 5-0 win CFA International Women's Youth Football Tournament Weifang 2018 last Aug. 24. Shimkin scored an Olimpico goal off a corner kick, which went directly into the goal. The victory boosted the USA to the tournament title.

"I was told to bend it but I didn't know that I was going to bend that much," she said. "It ended up going on. It was crazy."

We'll let Riley have the last word.

As good as Shimkin as an athlete and as a soccer player, the Albertson director of football feel there is another hidden asset to her game.

"I think her best asset is her brain. her soccer IQ is so high," he said. "She understands the game and reads the game so well. That's a credit to the coaches we've had in our club really. I really feel that they've helped her with that. It's great to see another player coming through."

 

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