Old Mill's Alli Cislo, an All-Metro first-team forward,… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
Old Mill senior Alli Cislo has never craved extra attention, but what she does on the soccer field leaves no choice.
Opposing coaches spend hours planning to stop the All-Metro first-team forward. During school on the day of a game, her classmates routinely tell her they're expecting nothing less than a goal or two.
The attention increases at game time, starting with the two defenders who are often assigned to mark her.
And then Cislo gets the ball.
The opposing coach cringes. The goalkeeper goes on high alert. The Patriots' junior varsity players, stationed at one corner of the bleachers, stop their chatting and eating and laughing to pay attention. A collective buzz surrounds the stadium because something special is expected to happen.
Old Mill coach Michelle Clare matter-of-factly said: "When Alli gets the ball, I always think we're going to get a goal."
In four years on varsity, Cislo has zigged and zagged through countless defenders, slivered through seams to get to balls sent forward by her teammates and displayed a missile-like shot that consistently finds vacant corners of the goal.
Cislo has scored 61 goals and assisted on 11 others in her high school career, with her production improving each season. The team captain has 20 goals and three assists for the 5-7 Patriots this season.
Asked when she first realized she was a special soccer player, Cislo, who plays club ball for Freestate Soccer Alliance, hesitated for a few seconds before providing a humble response.
"I guess it was coming into high school," said Cislo, an 'A' student who is set to play at Ohio University on an athletic scholarship. "Our club team was playing in big tournaments, and the coaches talked about colleges and I started thinking I could actually go somewhere to play."
Cislo began playing soccer when she was 4, trying to keep up with her older sister, Jenny, a former standout defender at Old Mill who is now a college sophomore playing at New Jersey Institute of Technology.
When Jenny was playing on a youth team that was coached by the sisters' father, Jeff, and included boys, Alli would tag along and cause a stir. Coach Cislo would challenge the boys to race Alli and whoever couldn't keep up had to run extra laps.
"When Alli showed up, her speed always stood out from the crowd," Jeff said.
With her speed and competitiveness providing a solid foundation, Cislo developed incredible ball skills, an understanding of the game and the cannon shot over the years. She credits all the coaches she has worked with in her career, from playing club ball to being a member of the regional Olympic Development Program to attending a youth national camp during her freshman year.
South River coach John Sis has witnessed Cislo's excellence on the soccer field on several occasions. The Seahawks are ranked No. 4 with a 12-2 record, and after a season-opening 2-0 loss to No. 1 McDonogh, they have yielded only nine goals in their past 13 games. Cislo scored three of the goals in a six-minute stretch when South River defeated Old Mill, 8-3, on Oct. 2.
"We've known her for four years and know what she's capable of doing. So the fact that we knew this and she was still able to do what she did was remarkable," Sis said. "She's got technical ability, quickness and vision and the power with her shot -- all these things make her so complete and a special all-around player. I was just happy we scored more than she did."
Cislo, who has three or more goals in seven career games, including Wednesday's win over Glen Burnie, enjoys her teammates coming over to provide congratulations after she scores, but she is quick to get back in the middle of the field to go back to work.
The second goal she scored against South River was one that stands out. After South River goalkeeper Emily Carter sent a goal kick to midfield, an Old Mill player headed it back toward the Seahawks' third of the field. Cislo was there and cleanly struck a one-touch volley to the upper corner before Carter had time to get back in position.
"Yeah, I was surprised by that one," Cislo said with a laugh. "I knew what I wanted to do and knew how to hit it correctly, but sometimes it's really hard to hit that right. But once I hit it and saw it going straight for the goal, I was like 'Oh my gosh, that's going in.' It's one of the best feelings."
Like so many other goalkeepers who have seen Cislo's shots get by them, all Carter could do was appreciate the extraordinary effort.
"I love playing against her because she's such a great player. She gets great power behind her shots and also has great placement," Carter said. "It's a good opportunity for anyone because she plays at such a high level. It's always a great challenge for me."
With the Class 4A East region playoffs approaching, Cislo wants to play well to close out her high school career. The Patriots aren't among the top teams in Anne Arundel County, but they have shown they can be dangerous with a tightly contested loss earlier this season against perennial power Severna Park. When asked what she enjoys most about playing at Old Mill, Cislo didn't hesitate.
"It's fun being around the team. Everybody comes to play," she said.