Aleisha Cramer (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
On any given school day she's just like any other 19-year old sophomore college student, attending classes, doing homework and hanging out with friends.
But come game day this 5-10 redhead turns into one of the best college women's soccer players in the country, perhaps even in the world, and she plays for the Cougars on South Field in Provo, Utah.
When Aleisha Cramer, from Lakewood, Colo., announced she was coming to play for BYU in 2000, she made national headlines for herself and BYU's women's soccer program which was in its sixth year of participation as a Division I program. Her signing with the Cougars is like Steve Young joining the men's football team or a Danny Ainge coming to play basketball.
Originally she had narrowed her choices to North Carolina, Portland and Santa Clara and was going to make a visit to BYU as a courtesy to the coaches.
"The trip to BYU made me realize the gospel of Jesus Christ was my number one priority, and in the long run it was going to make me the happiest. The gospel was more important than where I played soccer, and it wasn't worth risking going anywhere else. The other schools didn't have the environment that's at BYU. I'm learning things here that will make me a more complete player. I'm growing, taking on more responsibilities and that's making me a better player and a better person."
BYU women's soccer head coach Jennifer Rockwood says Aleisha's decision has opened the door to attracting that same high caliber of athletes to the program.
"Aleisha coming here has helped for obvious reasons. Foremost, she's a tremendous midfielder, a talented playmaker with exceptional skills, great speed and one whose work rate cannot be matched," Rockwood said. "She makes our team better because of her attitude, and she's willing to put in the time and effort to continually get better."
April Heinrich, Cramer's national team coach, defines Aleisha's skills as paramount or superior to all others.
"She is the most impactful player in women's college soccer today," said Heinrich to the San Diego Union Tribune. "She changed the game. At 19-years-of-age, that's about as good a compliment as you'll get from me without calling her the next Michael Jordan."
Cramer has also been heavily involved with the program's recruiting efforts because of her attitude and example.
"She brings so much, especially in her character, her unselfishness, the way she treats others and in the way she presents herself," said Rockwood. "With Aleisha it's always about the team, whatever she can do to help the team get better and be successful."
Aleisha recalls starting to play soccer at about age six or seven. She found the team aspect of soccer to her liking as well as the friendships she'd developed and the fact she likes to compete. "When I step out onto the field I forget a
Now, at age 19, she still loves soccer and didn't really realize her talents or abilities until she was about 16 when she was playing on the Under-16 National Team.
"As I moved up I realized this was something I could reach. I had an opportunity to make it one of my goals. I found out it took a lot of hard work and I liked to compete and I'll do whatever it takes to win. I reached my goal and made it good."
And make it good is just what she's done. Her soccer accolades could fill the rest of this page and then some. Suffice it to say, she's made 13 appearances with the U.S. women's national team playing alongside the likes of soccer greats Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Michelle Akers. She made her debut in 1998 at the age of 16, making her the third youngest player to ever play for the full U.S. national team. Only Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly were younger. She even started for an injured Hamn in 1999 in an exhibition game against Brazil at Mile High Stadium in Denver, just a short distance from her hometown of Lakewood, Colo.
Her time spent with the national team has provided many memorable experiences that have helped her grow as an individual and as a player. Even though the main reason for traveling is to play soccer, she does get a little bit of time to experience a different culture, meet people, learn about their customs, what they wear and what they eat.
"The last place I went to was Norway and I remember the 70 degree temperature, which was perfect for playing soccer, the rolling hills, the mountains, the trees and the pretty colorful flowers."
She's traveled the globe, played with and against some of the best players in the world and currently is one of 13 college players nominated for the prestigious Hermann Award. It's the highest honor given to the best male and female college soccer player in the country, and she's the lone sophomore on that list.
Even with all that aside, she's a young, energetic, quiet, sometimes giggly college sophomore with a hectic schedule that forces her to manage her time wisely juggling school, soccer and the Church.
Coach Rockwood recalls finding out something about her that surprised her because of Aleisha's quietness. "When she's at practice and she misses a goal or does something bad, she screams really loud. That just surprised me the first time I heard her because normally she's quiet," recalls Rockwood.
She's also known for her giggling, her sleeping on road trips thus missing the pretty sights and she's been known to play tricks and jokes on teammates and coaches.
At the beginning of this season, she had talked the team's athletic trainer, Carolyn Billings, into telling coach Rockwood she (Aleisha) was going to have to have surgery and would be out for at least the first month of the 2001 season. She'd been playing with a nagging knee pain and saw this a great opportunity for one of her famous practical jokes.
The interesting thing about this practical joke was it sort of backfired on her. As it turned out Coach Rockwood and Carolyn Billings had come up with a joke of their own, one that would definitely upset Aleisha. The next time Carolyn saw and talked with Aleisha, she just happened to mention she had talked with Coach Rockwood who mentioned a telephone conversation with Heinrich, the head coach for the national team.
In that conversation coach Rockwood said Aleisha would not be able to compete with the national team because of the upcoming surgery. Aleisha was totally devastated, at least for a time, until she found out about the joke.
As she looks back at the experiences she's had so far since playing soccer and what she would pass on to other aspiring young soccer stars, she mentions three very important things that have gotten her where she is today.
"First, do it because you love it. Second, work hard. Do more than the average player is going to do and third, learn about overcoming adversities. Learn from them, grow from them and don't give up."
So what's next for this extremely talented soccer star and future BYU Hall of Famer? "I'm just enjoying my year in school and concentrating on this season and doing my best for the team."
When asked about her chances at capturing the Hermann trophy she replies, "I don't worry about that. I'm very honored to be nominated. There's so many good, amazing players that are very deserving and I know they'll give it to the best player."
And in her spare time, 'what spare time,' she replies, she enjoys movie night with her friends, going to the mall or going out to eat. She also likes to play the guitar and would welcome a chance to spend more time hanging out with her family and grandparents.
Because she is just a sophomore, she doesn't have to declare a major or area of study, but right now she's considering a communications major with an emphasis in public relations. Whatever career path she chooses outside of soccer, she's destined for success because of her determination and unselfish character.
*You can catch Aleisha and the BYU women's soccer team in action this Saturday (Nov. 3) when the Cougars battle instate rival Utah at 7 p.m. on South Field, just behind the Smith Fieldhouse. The Cougars are favored to win a third consecutive MWC crown.
1999 National High School Player of the Year
Two High School State Championships (Green Mountain HS)
Club National Champions (Colorado Rush)
Played on the U-16 National Team
Played on the U-19 National Team
Played on the U-21 National Team
Played on the U.S. Women's National Team
First-Team NSCAA All-America, 2000
MWC Freshman of the Year, 2000
MWC All-Conference First Team, 2000
MWC All-Tournament Team, 2000
ESPN/Soccer Times All-America Second Team, 2000
ESPN/Soccer Times Freshman of the Year, 2000
NSCAA All-America First Team, 2000
NSCAA First-Team All-West Region, 2000
Soccer Buzz All-Region Second Team, 2000
Soccer Buzz All-America Third Team, 2000
First Team collegesoccer.com Pre-Season All-America, 2001