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February 18, 2004

USYSA National Championship Participants Headline Steve Simmons' First Recruiting Class

DeKALB, IL---When Steve Simmons took the reins of the Northern Illinois University men's soccer program last spring, he listed recruiting as his top priority to bringing the Huskies into contention for the Mid-American Conference title and an NCAA tournament berth. The veteran sideline boss delivered on that promise this week with the announcement of his first recruiting class at NIU.

Five prep standouts have signed National Letters of Intent to join the Huskie program next fall. That list includes three Illinois recruits in defenders Steve Algozino (Frankfort / Lincoln-Way East), Chris Rufa (Downers Grove / South) and Trinidad Correa (Cicero / Morton) plus a pair of out-of-state forwards in Curt Zastrow (North Freedom, WI / Reedsburg Area) and Cody Russell (Glendale, AZ / Cactus).

"These players comprise a strong recruiting class for us", Simmons said. "We were looking for impact players from elite club and Olympic Development Program teams who would come in and give us an immediate impact and depth. More important, these young men are quality people who provide a balance of getting it done on the field and in the classroom. This class will be very influential in moving the program in the direction we want to go."

Algozino earned area Player of the Year honors from the Star newspaper chain and also drew First-Team All-State accolades from the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association (IHSSCA) last fall after topping the Griffin scoring charts with ten goals and four assists for coach Brian Papa. Those accolades capped a 2003 campaign which also featured First-Team All-Area citations by the Daily Southtown, Star, and Daily Herald newspapers, plus a third consecutive All-SICA West accolade.

Algozino also anchored the Lincoln-Way East defensive unit which posted 11 shutouts last fall on the way to a second consecutive regional title. The four-year letterwinner and three-year starter helped pace the Griffins to a 29-17-4 record in his final two seasons. He is a member of the National Honors Society and considered attending the University of Illinois-Chicago and Butler University before deciding to enroll in NIU's nationally-acclaimed College of Business.

The Huskie signee helped the Chicago Magic club to Illinois State Cup titles in each of the past four years and was that organization's Under-17 Player of the Year in 2003 following an 11-goal, 26-point season. That performance paced the Magic to the Snickers U.S. Youth Soccer Association (USYSA) national championship in 2003 for coaches Mike Matkovich and Jeremy Alumbaugh following runner-up status the previous year.

"Steve will be a steady central defender for us. He has very good timing in the air…and not just when it comes to winning it defensively, but also on the attack and during restarts," Simmons said. "He is solid technically and makes good decisions under pressure. Steve's experience with the national champion Chicago Magic club team will greatly benefit him when he gets to Northern Illinois University."

Rufa drew IHSSCA All-Sectional acclaim in each of the last two seasons, adding those awards to a pair of Chicago Tribune All-Area certificates and two Daily Herald All-Area honors. The two-time All-West Suburban Conference Gold pick was named his team Most Valuable Player as a junior. He helped anchor the defensive unit of the DGSHS squad which was rated among the Chicagoland area's top ten teams for much of the season before being upset in the regional final of the state tournament to finish at 18-2-4.

The Mustangs registered six shutouts for coach Jon Stapleton last fall while allowing more than one goal in only six of those 24 contests. Downers Grove South won the WSC Gold crown with a perfect 6-0 mark after posting an 11-7-1 overall ledger in 2002.

Rufa's play extended to the attack for a total of ten goals and six assists in his final two seasons. He was a teammate of Algozino on the Magic's championship run in club play.

That is only one reunion for Rufa---who also considered going to Illinois-Chicago before signing with the Huskie program---as he re-joins former prep teammate Steve Goletz on the NIU roster this fall. Goletz earned the starting goalkeeper job as a freshman midway through the 2002 campaign and held that post until suffering a broken hand versus the University of Wisconsin in the second match of the schedule last fall. He received a medical redshirt season from the NCAA and will have three years of eligibility remaining.

"Chris is a tireless worker as a defensive midfielder and has proven he can get it done with a national championship club side," Simmons noted. "He is a tough ball winner and has the skill to keep possession for us once he has won it. His height will be an asset for us in the midfield or backline."

Correa earned First-Team All-Mid-Illini Conference recognition as a senior, playing a key role on the Potters' squad which won 23 consecutive games and reached the IHSA tournament sectional final for coach Bill Stamper last fall. Correa's presence on the back line was influential in Morton's 37-5-5 ledger over the past two seasons.

The Cicero native is a member of the Necaxa club under coach Manuel Munez and also participated in the prestigious adidas Elite Soccer Player camp last summer, with invitations to that event limited to the top 150 players in the country. His resume includes a stint on the Region II Olympic Development Program team in 2002 plus a spot in the regional pool last year. Oakland University and the University of Michigan were among the schools vying for Correa, who is expected to study criminology at Northern Illinois.

"Trinidad is very steady. He goes about his business without flash," Simmons explained. "He plays stronger as the match goes on. He has been involved at some of the highest levels of youth soccer in this country and it shows. He will have an immediate impact in this program."

A two-time Second-Team All-State selection in Wisconsin, Zastrow is expected to add scoring punch to the Huskie line-up. He tallied 106 goals in four years at Reedsburg, including 44 last year for coach Rich King. That prowess enabled RAHS to compile a 34-11-2 record in Zastrow's final two seasons.

Zastrow re-wrote the school scoring records on the way to three All-Badger North accolades plus a trio of team Most Valuable Player honors. He also logged seven assists for a 95-point total last fall while his sophomore season (2001) featured 28 goals and five helpers for 61 points. The school finished 18-8-1 last fall following a 16-3-1 ledger in his junior campaign.

Zastrow's club portfolio includes experience with Yahara United, where he hit the net 23 times for coach Tim Alexander. He was also a member of the Madison 56ers club during USYSA Y-League competition last year, and was recruited by the University of Wisconsin as well as Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Wisconsin-Green Bay but opted to major in education at NIU.

"Curt is a strong and explosive athlete. He has the quickness to elude defenders and the pace to separate from them," Simmons said. "In matches I watched, Curt often drew the attention of multiple defenders. This made him work even harder for his space, which will only come back to bless him at the collegiate level."

Russell earned Second-Team All-4A Conference honors last fall, capping a three-year varsity career for coach Jack Altersitz. The three-year starter helped CHS to back-to-back 4A state championships in 2001 and 2002 as the Cobras posted marks of 22-1 and 22-4, respectively, in those two seasons. He joined the CHS soccer program after lettering in wrestling as a freshman.

Russell was a member of the Sereno 86 team which won seven state championships in club soccer for coaches Harry Demos and Mitch Murray and finished second at the USYSA national championships in each of the past two years. He was also a part of the USYSA Region IV Olympic Development Program pool in 2003 and is a four-year member of the Arizona state team. He was recruited by a number of schools---including Bradley University plus the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Oakland University and the University of North Carolina-Greensboro---but expects to study finance in NIU's College of Business.

"Cody is a top level athlete from one of the top club programs in the country. He possesses elite D1 pace and quickness," Simmons noted. "The attribute that separates him from other players in his position is his ability to play at a high tempo for long stretches in a match. He can stretch a defense and works tirelessly to get the ball back. I am excited to have such a dynamic athlete involved in our program."

The newcomers join 13 returning letterwinners from last fall's squad. NIU finished fifth in the Mid-American Conference, which sent three teams to the NCAA tourney for the first time in league history in 2003.

-30- -- Copy by Robert Hester



Player Pos Ht. Wt. Hometown High School
Steve Algozino D 6-2 175 Frankfort, IL Lincoln-Way East
Trinidad Correa D 5-9 160 Cicero, IL Morton
Chris Rufa D-M 6-3 170 Downers Grove, IL Downers Grove S.
Cody Russell F 5-9 150 Glendale, AZ


Curt Zastrow F 5-10 170 North Freedom, WI

Reedsburg Area



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