Aug 21, 2013
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 8, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2013-14 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Senior Alex Melin's competitive drive makes the midfielder an engine to the University of Iowa women's soccer team's attack.
"She plays in the center of the field and does a little bit of our dirty work," said UI head coach Ron Rainey. "She's a rock for our defense, and she is the one to pull the team forward on offense and back on defense."
During the past two seasons, Melin had the Hawkeye engine going forward more times than not. Iowa won a school-record 13 games in 2011 and earned a No. 5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The Hawkeyes followed with 12 wins in 2012 to give the program its best two-year stretch in history.
Melin started playing soccer as a 6-year-old, and immediately, it was her favorite sport. As a prep, she was a two-time all-state honoree and the Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior at Verona (Wis.) High School. Melin was also a three-time team most valuable player and three-time team captain.
She knew in middle school that she wanted to play soccer collegiately and when introduced to the University of Iowa, she fell in love with the school and its soccer program.
"I loved the coaching staff," said Melin. "Ron is awesome. The whole campus and community environment that surrounds the Hawkeyes is great."
Rainey found out early on that he had a gem in Melin.
"You have a feeling they can be good and you usually know five-to-six days into preseason," said Rainey. "She was somebody that stepped in because we needed her, and she has blossomed."
Melin didn't know what to expect when she left home to begin her foray into collegiate soccer. One thing was for certain; she was going to put it all on the line with hard work, and let it go from there.
"No matter what skill-level you possess, you can always put forth 100 percent effort," said Melin. "That can always make up for any glitches. Pushing yourself helps."
That attitude and energy has been infectious within the program.
"Our team these past few years has done an awesome job of everyone working hard for the ball, and it has turned into goals and wins that we didn't have when I first came here," she said. "Getting on that same page with everyone helps."
Melin started every game of the 2010 season, scoring three goals and adding an assist before being selected the team's Newcomer of the Year. As a sophomore, she started all 20 games, scoring five goals and adding three assists en route to being the team's Most Valuable Player. The team won a school-record 13 games.
Last season, Melin started 19 games, scoring two goals, while being a central figure on an Iowa defense that posted seven shutouts. She has 10 career goals and four assists as a Hawkeye.
Rainey has seen Melin grow during her first three seasons on campus, and he sees her taking on a bigger role offensively in 2013.
"She is much smarter offensively," said Rainey. "She has scored a lot of good goals for us. Sometimes they are on restarts and driven balls where she throws her body in there where some people are a little unsure at times, but she is not afraid to do that."
Melin's adjustment to the speed of the collegiate game has allowed her to grow and put her in position to contribute more offensively.
"My touch has gotten better going forward and finishing," she said. "In high school you can run past everyone with speed. In college, everyone is fast, so you can't just have speed. We're able to move the ball around, and it gives us more chances to get on goal."
Rainey has seen Melin work for three years, but every time he sees her competing on the field, he admires how hard she works in each drill, practice, and game.
"Alex wants to win every single ball, and I love that about her," he said. "She does a lot of the dirty work. If you think about basketball, (she is) that person that runs after every loose ball, gets every rebound, and isn't afraid to physically impose themselves.
"In soccer, you need players that don't necessarily need to be the goal-scorer, but create a lot of energy by winning head balls, getting good tackles, and enjoying getting tackles in. We play a physical sport, and some players enjoy imposing themselves on the games physically, and she does that well."
With Melin being one of two seniors on the Hawkeye roster (along with forward Ashley Catrell), Rainey wants to see Melin be more vocal in leading the team.
"She loves to lead by example and has the personality where she would want to tell everybody, look at what I do," he said. "Now we're asking her to feel comfortable because if she opens her mouth and says something, she has the respect of everyone on the team because of how hard she works and what she does on a day-in-and-day-out basis for our program."
All Melin has done is start 59 career games and guide the program to 33 wins in three seasons. She says the Hawkeyes are in a position to continue moving forward in 2013.
"We had a lot of people that didn't play (last) fall, and (they) got a lot of playing time in the spring," said Melin. "They stepped up a lot. I think we're going to have a great year."
The Hawkeyes open the regular season Friday, Aug. 23, at 7 p.m. (CT) at Drake before hosting Western Michigan in their home opener Sunday, Aug. 25, at the Iowa Soccer Complex beginning at 1 p.m.