GRAND RAPIDS — If a coach could pick a student-athlete to be a leader on the team and be an athlete a team could build around, Ellie Tillma would be the perfect fit.
The Grand Rapids High School senior not only excels as an athlete, but she also demonstrates leadership skills that are teaching younger Thunderhawk athletes good traits on and off the field. Throw in the fact she is an excellent student and you have a student-athletes coaches love to have.
Tillma – the daughter of Becky and Jeff Tillma – is a high-scoring forward on the Grand Rapids High School girls soccer team this fall and then laces up the skates as a forward for the girls hockey team in the winter. In the spring, she plays shortstop and center field for the Thunderhawks fastpitch softball team.
Brooke Moses, head coach of the Thunderhawks, said Tillma brings offensive power on the field and leadership both on and off the pitch.
“Every day at practice she is pushing herself, every game she is running as hard as she can, so she brings a lot of high energy and skills to the team – and goals,” Moses said. “Besides her speed, her foot skills have improved greatly over the years. I have known her since the eighth grade and her foot skills are really good this year.
“Also, just the determination she shows to get to every single ball, and that helps us put the ball into the net.”
Moses said that during practices Tillma practices shots that are good shots and doesn’t just lag them at the goal.
“Ellie practices how she wants to play,” Moses explained.
Tillma said she started playing soccer in kindergarten, and she added that athletics have been important in her life while growing up.
“Athletics have been very important for me; I have met a lot of my best friends through sports and it has been a great way to stay healthy and active,” Tillma said. “Sports has taught me how to be a team player, a good leader especially this senior year, and I love meeting the new players that come up every year. That’s been my favorite part.”
Moses said that since Grand Rapids is such a young team, it is important that Tillma and the other captains provide the leadership that they do.
“This year we only have two seniors and three juniors so we are mostly lower classmen and eighth graders and that huge energy and huge leadership that Ellie brings, the younger ones really look up to her,” Moses said. “I know a few girls who will be fighting for her position next year are looking up to her and watching her and she just brings a lot of good energy.
“She is just an amazing player and she has improved so much since I have known her in eighth grade. She is a great asset to our team and she is going to be greatly missed next year.”
Tillma said as a forward that she tries to provide a spark for the Thunderhawks on the pitch. When asked what she feels are her strengths as a soccer player, she said, “I think I do well with through balls so the mids will sometimes send a ball past the defenders and I can sprint past the defenders and get to the ball. My foot skills have improved also which is very important especially when I have to sub in at center mid. That is a position that requires good foot skills.”
Besides her speed, Tillma said being of small stature can also help because it allows her to be lower to the ground which in turn allows her to work her way around the defense.
The goal for Grand Rapids this season, according to Tillma who leads Grand Rapids with 14 goals and three assists this season, is to win at least its first section game.
“We would love to potentially have a home section game which we haven’t had in a really long time,” said Tillma. “Coach Brooke even said this is one of our most winning seasons since 2011, so it would be nice to have a home section game. We are right in the middle so....”
As a captain on the team, Tillma said she definitely tries to communicate well with her teammates.
“Talking in the middle, talking on the defensive side of the field, talking all over really helps,” Tillma said.
Tillma carries a 3.98 grade point average in the classroom and she said academics are extremely important to student-athletes.
“It teaches us balance as well as time management,” said Tillma. “Once we are done with practice you go home and get your homework done and that is one of the things that I think we learn the most when being student-athletes.”
Tillma said she plans to major in pre-med, probably at either the University of North Dakota (UND) or Montana State University, and potentially play softball at UND.