When it comes to Emilie Fillion, nothing should surprise the Carolina Elite Cobras.
They play the Dayton Dutch Lions women’s team for the USL’s Southeastern Conference Championship at Beavercreek High School on Friday night at 8 p.m. and, to the uninitiated, it might seem as if Fillion would be stuck on the sidelines for this game.
The Dutch Lions captain out of Wright State has played the entire season with a broken bone in her left foot. She missed last Sunday night’s regular season finale and did not practice on Monday or Tuesday this week. She’ll need surgery when the season ends.
And yet early Wednesday morning — as the orange and black clad Dutch Lions women took the field at the Miami Valley School for a spirited practice — there was Fillion, out in front, leading her teammates through a strenuous cut and turn, shuffle, backpedal and sprint-agility drill that soon had them all breathing heavily in the already-muggy summer heat.
Her foot was heavily taped beneath her sock, but she didn’t back off the drill, slow down or complain.
Fillion is the leader of this resurgent bunch — a team that didn’t win a single game last season but has finished first in the Southeastern Conference this year with a 5-2-3 record — and the Lions need her Friday night.
“She’s crucial to out team ,” head coach Sid van Druenen said. “She’s a striker, a goal scorer, a great finisher. She has a fantastic work ethic and as the team captain she’s worked hard to bring the girls together, solve problems off the field and get everyone to bond. The fact that she has done all this — while playing through her own injury — says all you need you know about her.
“So she certainly will play Friday night.”
Not that the opponents from Columbia, S.C. ever thought otherwise.
When Fillion is involved, they’ve learned not to be surprised. Not after what happened on their last trip to Dayton.
An unforgettable goal
That was June 1 and the Elite Cobras were ahead 1-0 until Dutch Lions forward Juliana Libertin sent a looping pass across the field to Fillion, who was to the right of the goal, a few yards out, but facing away from the net.
That’s when a fit of inspiration hit.
Fillion launched herself into a backward flip and as she was rotating over, she managed to execute a perfect bicycle kick that rocketed the ball into the top right of the goal as the frozen Cobra keeper watched helplessly.
It became the most talked about shot of the USL season and the celebration began instantly.
Fillion landed on her back and never saw the goal — which ended up giving Dayton the 1-1 tie that day. As teammates began screaming in delight, she popped up, threw her arms to the heavens and began to run up field where she was instantly mobbed.
Even the Cobras appreciated what they had seen.
“The other team high-fived me while I was playing,” Fillion chuckled. “The one defender who was on me the whole game high-fived me and said that was awesome.
“It’s just that you don’t see something like that very often so everyone wants to be part of it.”
A video of the goal went viral on the Internet. The first day more than 85,000 people watched it. By midday Wednesday 902,185 had watched one YouTube version.
“It was pretty neat,” she said. “I still see it on random websites and still hear people talking about it. I work in the athletic office at Wright State and people still walk in and say, ‘Aren’t you the girl who did the bicycle kick?’
“Coaches and friends from back home in Quebec, friends from all across the States, they all contacted me. It was worse than my birthday. My phone wouldn’t stop blowing up.”
ESPN ‘s SportsCenter made it one of its Top Ten plays of the day and it ended up No. 2.
“It got beat by some home run or something,” Fillion said with a shrug. “I mean I don’t really know baseball, but it was like a grand slam — is that where everybody runs? Yeah, that’s what it was, a game-winning grand slam … It is baseball season and a grand slam, that’s big, right?”
Finding a home at Wright State
Fillion is from Saint Hubert, a borough in the city of Longuenil about nine miles from Montreal. A basketball player of note in high school, she committed to play soccer for North Carolina-Wilmington, but then tore her ACL and MCL playing hoops.
Wilmington needed immediate help and shied away from the scholarship, suggesting, she said Wright State instead.
She accepted an offer from the Raiders sight unseen. She knew nothing of the school or the area, spoke mostly French and her first season had to redshirt as she recovered from knee surgery.
“The first year was kind of awful,” she said. “It was really hard. It took a lot of time for me to do my homework, not to mention common things like just going to a restaurant and trying to order in English.
“But my teammates made it much easier. The people here were tremendous. I was just so well surrounded — and I got to like it.”
She starred on the field for the Raiders, as well as in the classroom.
“I’m really a geek,” she said. “I love school and going to class. I loved have a balance life with sport.”
She graduated with a double major – psychology and criminal justice – and is now about to start work on her masters in applied behavioral science.
She played for the Dutch Lions last season and was one of four players brought back this year when van Druenen, an assistant last year, took over as head coach.
He changed not only the roster and style of play, but the entire culture surrounding the women’s team.
One of the people he banked on most was Fillion, who has had a breakout season. Although she’s played one less game than her teammates, she leads the Lions in points (14) and goals (6).
She said she’s enjoying the season, on and off, like never before. So much so, in fact, that earlier this month she said she even celebrated the Fourth of July for the first time.
She went to Columbus with friends and wore blue shoes, a red and white striped top and even a headband sporting Uncle Sam colors.
“I don’t know if my friends back home would understand — or even approve — but I figured if I was going to do it, I might as well be all in. No hesitation. No holding back.”
That’s a mindset that’s worked on the field, as well, this year.
Just ask the Carolina Elite Cobras.