Alexis Yoculan: No ordinary freshman

Vanderbilt freshman soccer player Alexis Yoculan earned plenty of notoriety for herself last year, in a season that saw her score an astounding 54 goals for Athens (Ga.) Academy. But on her first night away at college, she was having a little trouble adjusting... <p> <i>Vanderbilt opens the women's soccer season Friday at 7 p.m. vs. Wake Forest.

NASHVILLE-- The first night freshman Alexis Yoculan spent on the Vanderbilt campus, she was feeling a little down in the dumps. It was her first night away from her home town of Athens, Ga., and the loneliness and homesickness began to sink in. (If you ever went away to college, you can relate.)

So as she tells it, she called her mom long-distance for a little pep talk, something at which her mom should be quite adept indeed. Her mom is Suzanne Yoculan, coach of the "Gymdogs", the renowned women's gymnastics program at the University of Georgia.

"I needed a little inspiration," Alexis said recently, in between a grueling set of two-a-day workouts. "So she gave me a little inspirational talk. She knew exactly what to say."

It's been downhill ever since for the former Athens (Ga.) Academy star, who's competing as one of five forwards on the Vanderbilt women's soccer team. She finally began classes Wednesday, and she and her teammates open the 2004 season Friday at 7 p.m. vs. Wake Forest at the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex.

Alexis' mother Suzanne has coached Georgia to 12 SEC Championships and 5 NCAA championships... so it's not difficult to imagine her finding some encouraging words to offer her daughter over the telephone at a crucial moment in her life.

"It's definitely been different, having a mother who's as well-known as mine is," Alexis said. "But it's definitely always benefited me, because I've had a mother who can always help me mentally. She can't always help me with soccer, but mentally she's helped me through a lot of things."

Alexis Yoculan earned plenty of notoriety for herself last year, in a season that saw her score an astounding 54 goals and earn the Athens Banner-Herald's Player of the Year award. She reported to Vanderbilt three weeks ago as part of a recruiting class that was ranked No. 22 in the nation. Though recruited by nearby Georgia as well as Florida and Colorado, Yoculan says she found exactly what she was looking for in Coach Ronnie Hill's program in Nashville.

"Vanderbilt just stood out from all the others. I wanted to come to a town that was kind of like Athens, but I wanted to get away from Athens, so Vanderbilt was the best choice. It was the academics, and the team, and Ronnie. Everything was just perfect."

Like many college freshmen, Alexis (her teammates call her "Ali") found the going tough the first week. But she soon found herself bonding with her teammates and settling into the routine of preseason camp.

"Everybody's a little sore and tired, but we're doing well," she reports. "The team looks really good, and we're coming together.

"The conditioning is definitely a huge change from anything I've ever done. It surpasses it by tons. But everyone's been great. The seniors are really positive and great leaders."

The 5-foot-10 Yoculan, who was able to dominate games to an almost ridiculous degree at the high school level, says playing alongside college-level players has jolted her back to reality.

"It's definitely a 360-degree turn," she says. "Everyone you're playing against is sooooo... good. You have to push yourself all the time. You don't get any chances given to you-- you have to work for everything.

"Everyone's on the same level, and you've got to work that much harder just to even get by anybody. I'm just getting into everything. The competition is a lot harder. But hopefully I'll get better playing with all these girls."

With a pair of exhibition games under their belts (a scoreless tie vs. Furman, a 4-1 win over Samford), Yoculan and the women's soccer team will be trying to improve upon last year's 8-7-3 record. Not to look past anyone, but Yoculan says she already has one game circled in red: the Oct. 17 match with Georgia, which will mark her first return to her hometown of Athens.

"I'll always be a little bit of a Georgia fan, but I'm excited to come here and experience something new," she said. "I can't wait until we play Georgia. We're playing in Athens. I want to beat 'em bad."


What: Vanderbilt vs. Wake Forest, women's soccer
When: Friday, Aug. 27, 7 p.m.
Special Promotion: All Brentwood Soccer Club players and coaches who wear their soccer jersey get in for FREE.

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