The University of Vermont womens soccer team hosted the University of Albany in Burlington on Thursday, October 12, 2017.
GLENN RUSSELL/FREE PRESS
Before Ella Bankert became the University of Vermont women’s soccer team’s instant-impact rookie, she was the championship-game hero for Kimball Union Academy in neighboring New Hampshire.
Before scooting to KUA for two years of prep school, the gifted young attacker spurred Mill River to 27 wins in two seasons and its first Division II state final.
Before that? She wanted to do anything other than stick around her home state.
Yet instead of bolting from the Green Mountains, the Cuttingsville native opted to stick around. And two years after committing to the Catamounts, the former Minutemen standout is sporting the Green Mountains on the front of her soccer jersey.
“It had always been the opposite: Get out of Vermont, try something new,” said Bankert, who has three goals and an assist this fall. “But then the more I thought about it — and then leaving for (prep) school — made me appreciate it so much more and so much more excited to come back.”
What was it that turned the UVM staff onto the first backyard product in five years to don the green and gold?
“She’s clearly a very, very technical player (and) for how quiet and slight she is, she’s got a ton of grit — she covers a ton of ground,” UVM coach Kristi Lefebvre said.
“She’s constantly around the ball and I think that’s the sign of a good player, when you’re not having to wait for them to get on the ball,” Lefebvre said. “She connects the game. … I think that in itself speaks to her confidence as a player. Those are all things that we look for.
“You could just tell she was different than everybody else.”
With her debut in the Catamounts’ season-opener, the first of 14 straight starts, Bankert became the first Vermonter to suit up for the program since the final game of the 2012 campaign.
It wasn’t Bankert’s last breakthrough either. Her overtime game-winner against Brown three games later made her the first Vermonter to score for UVM since South Burlington’s Midori Eckenstein scored against Connecticut, a run of 94 games.
“She was instantly one of our most threatening players,” Lefebvre said of Bankert’s quick adjustment to the college game. “You couldn’t tell she was a freshman at all. But right away in our first couple scrimmages you could tell she was one of the best players on the field.”
If the Bankert’s skill and outsized tenacity made her a must-have recruit, her versatility has molded a Catamount who’s hard to take off the pitch.
By the time the season was a week old, she had already lined up for stretches as a winger, a wide midfielder, an attacking midfield and a center forward. It was only in the last two weeks that the coaches’ have scaled back the workload for the 5-foot-3 freshman.
“We’re able to move her around quite a bit,” Lefebvre said. “She’s done almost everything there is to do in an attacking spot.”
Bankert said she decided to commit to UVM the same week she made up her mind to leave Mill River after her sophomore year to pounce on the opportunity to attend Kimball Union, where she scored the only goal in last fall’s New England prep school championship game.
She credited that experience, getting away from home, with allowing her to capitalize on the next big chance: The return to Vermont.
“I just really like the idea of playing for my home state,” Bankert said. “It’s very meaningful and … rare. That makes it all the more special.”
Contact Austin Danforth at 651-4851 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/eadanforth