Vassallo ready to lead Trojans in her final season


 Bishop George Ahr High School’s Jillian Vassallo, middle, who has earned numerous accolades on the soccer pitch, is a standout in the classroom as well. She will major in physical therapy and play soccer at the University of Delaware.  THOMAS CISZEK Bishop George Ahr High School’s Jillian Vassallo, middle, who has earned numerous accolades on the soccer pitch, is a standout in the classroom as well. She will major in physical therapy and play soccer at the University of Delaware. THOMAS CISZEK Jillian Vassallo has never been timid about meeting a challenge head on. That’s why the rising senior at Bishop George Ahr High School will head to the University of Delaware after graduation to embark on an arduous academic journey to earn a license to practice physical therapy.

Becoming a physical therapist requires an undergraduate and master’s degree, in addition to a Ph.D., which means Vassallo will take classes and work in clinical settings for seven years.

That won’t be her only challenge. Vassallo is one of the top high school soccer players in the country and earned All-American honors (one of only 44 players in the U.S.) last year as an attacker for the Bishop Ahr girls soccer team. When the Blue Hens tendered Vassallo a full scholarship offer following her sophomore year, she didn’t hesitate to accept.

“[Delaware] is considered one of the best colleges in the country for preparing students to practice physical therapy, and that’s why I decided to go there,” Vassallo said. “It will be a long road before I earn a Ph.D., but I’m prepared for what’s ahead.”

Vassallo has demonstrated she can handle the workload by taking multiple honors classes and earning a 4.0 gradepoint average. She is also a member of the National and Italian Honor Societies.

On the soccer pitch, she earned Middlesex County Player of the Year honors from a statewide publication her sophomore and junior seasons and was named to multiple all-state and Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) all-star teams each year since she was a freshman.

Vassallo’s soccer career at Bishop Ahr began in 2012 when she netted nine goals and followed that year by scoring a team-leading 22 goals. Last season, Vassallo deposited 25 goals to repeat as the Trojans’ leading scorer.

Individual honors and statistics aside, Vassallo said her most satisfying achievement was playing a major role in helping her team win the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship in 2013. She notched the only goal in the quarterfinal, which the Trojans eventually won on penalty kicks, and netted the winning goals in the semifinal and championship games.

A native of Edison, Vassallo attended Catholic schools through elementary and middle school and decided to pursue her parochial high school education at Bishop Ahr.

“I did visit a few other schools but I felt Bishop Ahr was the best fit for me,” she said. “I’m glad I made the decision to come [here]. I’ve had a great experience playing soccer and feel I’m well prepared for college.”

Her coach, Jim Tavormina, has high praise for Vassallo’s ability and leadership and knows how fortunate he is to have such a talented player on his team.

“Jillian leads on and off the field,” he said. “It’s not often you come across a player with as much talent yet is so coachable. She does whatever it takes to make the team better.”

Tavormina hosts orientation sessions for prospective freshmen and transfers at Bishop Ahr and uses Vassallo’s strong people skills to conduct guided tours of the athletic and academic facilities.

“She is so laid back and friendly to everyone,” Tavormina said. “Jillian is a gifted athlete but one of the most down-to-earth individuals you’ll ever meet. She makes everybody around her better.”

Vassallo started playing soccer at age 4 when her parents signed her up to play at the Rovers Soccer Camp in Edison, which Vassallo said was one of the fun times of her life.

She has continued to refine her skills playing for the New Jersey Stallions’ Dynamite, ranked as one of the top club teams in the country the past three seasons. The Dynamite won every major tournament they have entered. Vassallo said she’s been influenced by a number of athletes but contends what has motivated her most are memorable moments in certain movies.

“There are two quotes that have motivated me to work to the best of my ability,” she said. “The first comes from ‘A League of Their Own’: ‘It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.’

“The second quote is from ‘Whiplash,’ ” Vassallo said. “ ‘There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.’ Playing so much soccer can be difficult, but whenever I recall these quotes, I’m motivated to keep going.”

Vassallo’s senior season at Bishop Ahr will be focused on her leadership responsibilities as captain of her team.

“I learned a lot in the role as a junior,” Vassallo said. “It’s important to maintain a positive attitude on and off the field, especially when it comes to motivating my teammates. I also believe that if I work as hard as I can, that will inspire others to do the same.”

That’s one more goal Vassallo hopes to achieve.