by Tom Pedulla –
The pursuit of excellence in sports can often feel like a solitary journey. Not for 11-year-old soccer player Julissa Casiano.
Her ever-cheering grandparents, Mariana and Oscar Segarra, played the sport in Ecuador before they immigrated to the United States in the early 1990’s. Her brother, Alexander, is a team captain and starting goalie at Sleepy Hollow High School. Her mentoring uncles, Fabian and Jonathan Segarra, each advanced to the collegiate level in soccer. Her mother, Jhoana, runs with her twice a week. They pound out four miles each time.
Owen Scully, director of coaching at Perfect Touch Soccer Academy in Chappaqua, recently added Casiano to his ambitious program. He describes her as a “wonderful prospect.” That Casiano is advanced beyond her years surely reflects her family’s backing.
“When you grow up with soccer, it becomes a part of who you are,” Scully said. “The environment she’s in, it helps with understanding the game. It does bring a player along very, very quickly.” Casiano’s relatives have worked with her on the physical and mental aspects of the demanding sport. She knows her individual success reflects that team effort.
“I’ve had support from my entire family to play the sport,” she said. “It means a lot. It shows that they care. And they really do support me in all of my decisions, no matter what.”
Since her parents divorced in 2014, Casiano has grown especially close to Fabian, a captain of the soccer team at Sleepy Hollow High School before his graduation in 2005. He went on to play at Emmanuel College in Boston.
“I treat her as if she was my daughter pretty much,” Fabian said. “I try to be there any way I can, physically, emotionally, any way she might need me. My house is always open to her. She knows she can call me any time she wants.”
Casiano’s goal of pursuing a college scholarship to a Division 1 school and then playing soccer professionally is a shared dream. So is her desire to become a lawyer and perhaps a judge.
“We will support her as much as we can,” said Jhoana, a teaching assistant at Sleepy Hollow Middle School.
The Segarra’s know no other way. “We’ve been lucky to have a family that’s very close,” Fabian said.
On the field and off, Julissa draws comfort from that. Although her parents’ divorce affected her deeply, she found a way to create something positive from that. She wrote about the experience in a powerful essay that helped her gain admission to Hudson Scholars, a program offered by Hackley School to develop promising local students.
Casiano is a sixth grader at Sleepy Hollow Middle School. She is convinced the many hours she devotes to soccer while still very young will be rewarded.“I very much do think it can get me a college scholarship,” she said. “I just hope this goes as far as it can go.”
Casiano began playing soccer when she was four years old. She first competed at age eight, as a member of the Sleepy Hollow Blaze. Although she is naturally fast and elusive, other elements of her game should grow through experience.
Casiano will face stiff challenges as a member of Perfect Touch’s travel team. Scully quickly added her to the roster after a recent tryout.“I saw tremendous potential, great natural ability,” he said.
Another important person in Casiano’s extraordinary family is Jaclyn, Fabian’s wife, who helps her in many ways.