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Sports Column | Todd Hefferman: Alaluf returns to her family's roots with Saluki soccer

Sports Column | Todd Hefferman: Alaluf returns to her family's roots with Saluki soccer

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SIU women's soccer

SIU forward Madison Bennion (2) looks to pass the ball as SEMO’s Kate Daus (20) defends during the first half of an exhibition game on Saturday in Carbondale.

Decades before she took her place in front of the goal Saturday night for the SIU women's soccer team, Maddy Alaluf's blood ran through the Prairie State.

The freshman goalkeeper from California, one of four on the Saluki roster, had never been to Illinois before visiting campus. But her parents, both vets, went to the University of Illinois. Her mother and uncle were born in Carbondale. And if you believe this, in the 1960s, her grandfather worked at the Striegel Animal Hospital I used to take my beagle to when I lived at that end of town.

So when assistant coach Libby Stout, a former All-American goalkeeper at Western Kentucky that also played five years professionally, asked Alaluf to come six states away to Illinois, she put both feet in.

"I had never been to Illinois before coming here," Alaluf said. "My parents went to U. of I., and said it was beautiful here, with different seasons. So, I came here and fell in love with the school and fell in love with the coaches."

Not to mention falling in love with opportunity. Alaluf (pronounced Al-a-loof), who was a part of the first freshman class at Pacifica Christian High School in California and helped start its girls soccer program, wanted to make history here, too. The 17-year-old from Newport Beach is competing to be the first starting goalkeeper in Saluki history Friday night, when SIU hosts Division II Illinois-Springfield in its first official match.

"Being part of a new Division I program is insane, and I thought that was amazing," she said. "And I founded my high school, so I may as well found a soccer team."

If Saturday night's exhibition match against Southeast Missouri State was any indication, there may be something brewing at the Hartzog Track and Field Complex. More than 2,100 fans showed up for the 7 p.m. exhibition, filling up the stands that seat about 250 people more than an hour before kickoff and filling the parking lot with tailgaters.

There's no telling how many people will show up for Friday's match, but to put it in perspective, the average attendance for a women's soccer match at a Missouri Valley Conference program last season was less than 400 fans.

"I've played in a crowd before," Alaluf said. "But I've never played in a crowd like this. So, it was really fun."

The moment was not lost on SIU coach Grant Williams, an assistant coach at Evansville for six years before starting the Saluki program in 2018.

"In my mind, I had a number, and when that number hit, and the people just kept coming, and then the ends filled up, you are thankful that people care about what you are doing," Williams said. "Time is a precious commodity just as much as anything else is, and the fact that people gave us a couple hours, and for the people that tailgated, several hours of their Saturday, and I hope they enjoyed the experience and I hope they recognized how historic that was."

TODD HEFFERMAN covers SIU athletics for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com, 618-351-5087 or on Twitter at @THefferman.

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