Senior soccer player becomes vocal team captain

Defender Melanie Leonida attempts to advance the ball during UNA’s soccer practice. Leonida is a senior and will be going on her fourth year as a Lion.

Melanie Leonida has had a productive and successful career as a member of the UNA soccer team, to say the least.

The defender from London, England, has 36 career starts and is one of two seniors on the squad.

Leonida takes pride in her leadership role and says helping others is not just a benefit to them but to herself.

“I’ve just always been a leader,” Leonida said. “I just like to take it upon myself to help other people and take them under my wing. It helps me a lot.

“Even when I’m stressed, just as long as I know I’m helping someone else and I’m leading other people it makes me feel a little better about myself.”

Leonida is one of seven UNA soccer players from overseas and one of three players from England. One may wonder how a talented footballer from the U.K. ended up all the way in Florence.

“It basically started when I started playing for Chelsea Ladies, a football club back home, and then I joined (England College team) and that’s kind of how I made my connections here,” Leonida said. “The head coach was Graham (Winkworth) when he was here and he was the one that asked me to come here.”

Leonida is a talented player, but she says talent is not all it takes to be a great soccer player.

“You have to know a lot about the game and the way the different positions work,” Leonida said. “Even if you’re a goalkeeper you need to know how the forward and midfield operates. And you need to be confident. If you don’t believe in yourself then you’ll never be a good player.”

On the field, players know who to look to for guidance. Leonida was a team captain for her national championship-winning high school team back home as well as for the Chelsea Ladies FC and England Colleges. Now she is a team captain for UNA and is also a member of UNA’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee.

Head soccer coach Chris Walker sees leadership traits in Leonida as a player and as a person.

“Mel is a hard working team captain,” Walker said. “She is one of the most vocal players on the team and is constantly encouraging all of the players around her.”

Walker said he believes Leonida will finish her soccer career at UNA successfully, as well as in the classroom.

“We are looking forward to her having a successful senior year and finishing her college career with a great experience both on and off the field.”

Teammate Susan Lang said Leonida has all of the qualities it takes to be a great leader.

“She is a very composed and calm player on the pitch,” Lang said. “She is not afraid to put in a challenge. She gives it everything she has both in practice and in games.”

Lang said Leonida’s maturity helps lead her teammates on and off the soccer field.

“She is the oldest on the team and is very mature,” Lang said. “She is very vocal on and off the pitch and knows the game well.”

Leonida, an Exercise Science major, hopes to further her education at UNA and make a difference after she hangs up the cleats.

“I’m looking to go to grad school, hopefully here at UNA,” she said. “Cardiac rehab specialist is what I want to do, primarily, but if that doesn’t work out then I don’t know. I’ll keep an open mind but I want to go to grad school, definitely.”

During the fall, between soccer and school, Leonida does not get much free time. Her schedule, like most college students, is pretty hectic. But, during the little off time she does get, she just likes to relax and with her teammates not too far away.

“Honestly with our schedule, between classes and practices, we don’t really have a lot of free time so (we are) just chilling out when we get the chance to,” Leonida said. “(The team) is like a big family so we pretty much hang out with each other even in our spare time.”

This season will likely be Leonida’s last to put on a UNA uniform. She has been playing the game since she was five years old and although she has been a part of a lot of great teams and created countless memories, Leonida is hopeful this season at UNA will be the best yet.

“Last year was our most successful year I’ve had here. The team cohesion was the best it’s ever been and I really enjoyed last season,” she said. “Maybe this season will be my best, best memory hopefully.

Leonida will begin her senior season on the road against McKendree University Sept. 3. in Lebanan, Illinois.