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U.S. coach Jill Ellis learned from UCLA legend John Wooden

NEW YORK - U.S. Women's national team soccer coach Jill Ellis went to the top when looking for coaching inspiration. Before joining U.S. Soccer full time, Ellis enjoyed a successful 12-year run as head coach at UCLA from 1999 to 2010.

NEW YORK - U.S. Women's national team soccer coach Jill Ellis went to the top when looking for coaching inspiration. Before joining U.S. Soccer full time, Ellis enjoyed a successful 12-year run as head coach at UCLA from 1999 to 2010.

While coaching at UCLA, she received some never forgotten advice from the late John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, who guided the UCLA men's basketball team to 10 national titles in a 12-year period.

Both Ellis, 48, and the national team are under immense pressure to earn America's first World Cup title since 1999. The U.S. begins play Monday against Australia in Winnipeg.

Nobody will be under the microscope more than Ellis, who was named the eighth U.S. head coach on May 16, 2014.

The job comes with enormous expectations, but at least outwardly, Ellis isn't showing the strain.

"I said this a lot, from day one, you work for the federation and U.S. Soccer, and I understand the expectations," Ellis said during a news conference last month in New York. "For me personally, I look at it as an amazing opportunity."

Ellis said as a young coach she was fortunate to talk to Wooden, who gave her advice she has never forgotten about dealing with pressure.

"He said pressure is a great thing because one, it means you are there and in the mix," said Ellis, who was 229-45-14 with eight appearances in the Final Four during her 12 seasons at UCLA. "And two, he said, 'embrace it,' so as a young coach I always have kind of taken that approach."

When asked about Wooden's impact on Ellis, midfielder Lauren Holiday said she is quite familiar with the topic.

"I don't know if she has told the team, but I have heard all her John Wooden stories," said Holiday, who is married to former 76ers guard Jrue Holiday and played at UCLA under Ellis from 2006 to 2009. "Obviously John Wooden is a huge inspiration to us, especially those of us who attended UCLA and she has talked to me about Coach and how inspiring he was to her and that is pretty cool."

Even before joining U.S. Soccer full time, Ellis had been associated with the organization since 2000 in a variety of roles, including assistant coach on the 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medal teams and she served two stints as interim head coach, compiling a 6-0-3 mark. Ellis also had two different stints as head coach of the U.S. Under-21 and U-20 teams, so she was very familiar with the players before becoming the program's eighth head coach.

"I've known Jill for a really long time," said U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd, the former Inquirer two-time South Jersey player of the year from Delran. "We go back from the U.S. Under-21 days and it's pretty cool to kind of see everything come full circle."

Lloyd says that as a head coach Ellis has quickly put her stamp on the team.

"She's done a great job of kind of steering the ship and getting us to believe in the philosophy and how we want to play and I think things are really coming together."

The Jill Ellis File

Hired: May 16, 2014 as the eighth U.S women's national team coach.

College playing: Third-team all-American as a senior at William and Mary (1987)

College coaching: Three years as an assistant at North Carolina State and Maryland, and one year as an assistant at Virginia. . . . Head coach at Illinois, UCLA.

U.S. Soccer: Scout at 2000 Olympics. . . . Assistant coach with U-21s and U-16 national teams. . . . Two stints each as head coach of U-21s and U-20s. . . . Assistant coach for 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medal teams. . . . Named development director for the U.S. women's national teams in 2011. During this time she was also interim head coach of the U.S. women's team for two stints, and had a 6-0-3 mark before taking over as head coach.

- Marc Narducci

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