College sports are rife with turnover and new faces as players are shuffled in and out of lineups or transfer to different programs seeking new opportunities.
The one constant the last three seasons for Paul Meehan’s men’s soccer team? Frankie Ljucovic.
Since graduating from Shattuck St. Mary’s Academy in 2018, Ljucovic has been a force with staying power for the Zags, starting every game he’s played except one.
In that time, the playmaking midfielder has found a comfortable balance between setting up his teammates for scoring chances or putting the ball in the back of the net himself. Ljucovic sees the game as an art form that can be creatively manipulated in reactive situations.
Ljucovic used his creativity assisting on the first goal of the year against Seattle University in a 3-2 double overtime loss to the Redhawks.
Eight games into the spring men’s soccer season, Ljucovic has tallied one goal and one assist for the Zags.
Ljucovic’s journey to Gonzaga was a long one. Originally from Poughkeepsie, New York, Ljucovic grew up playing soccer under the watchful eye of his father while playing with his two older brothers.
Per European tradition, Ljucovic’s father grew up constantly playing soccer in Montenegro before he brought his love for the game to the United States.
“Before I could even walk my dad would dribble a soccer ball with my feet,” Ljucovic said.
This familial focus on soccer helped Ljucovic fall in love with the game despite the grim reality of being the youngest in a band of brothers.
“It was definitely rough being the youngest, but I’m grateful that I had older brothers,” Ljucovic said.
How does a high schooler from Poughkeepsie, New York end up in Fairbault, Minnesota at one of the nation’s premiere athletic prep schools? All it took was 10 minutes.
“We were playing in the championship game of the tournament and one of the recruiters from Shattuck was watching the last 10 minutes. After the game he came over and offered me a tryout.”
The rest is history. Ljucovic nervously visited the picturesque campus in Minnesota to tryout. Although he didn’t want to leave his current coach and trusted mentor, his coach urged him that it was “the best opportunity” for him moving forward.
Ljucovic began training at a near college level at Shattuck by practicing, lifting and putting in the “extra work” that wasn’t all that extra to him and his teammates.
When Ljucovic decided to don the blue and red for the Zags in college, he turned down other programs closer to home like Michigan State and Villanova.
His coach at Shattuck, Sean Bushey, is friends with GU coach Paul Meehan. That relationship helped get Ljucovic on campus for a visit with current teammate Demitrius Kigeya.
“We actually committed to Gonzaga on the same phone call,” Ljucovic said.
Before arriving at GU, Ljucovic was skeptical about the “nice” reputation of the Pacific Northwest and how it compared to New York.
“I love Gonzaga. Even besides soccer, it’s awesome. People are opening doors and talking to you after classes,” Ljucovic said.
Ljucovic has no regrets about his decision to come to GU and the community he feels is an extension of the community he had at Shattuck.
On the pitch, Ljucovic balances the dichotomy of setting up his teammates for scoring opportunities while putting himself in advantageous positions to receive the ball.
During his sophomore season, Ljucovic had the chance to take the ball himself and make a play. Playing the University of Washington in a preseason exhibition at Luger Field, Ljucovic found the back of the net on a faraway strike to take a 1-0 lead over their PAC-12 foe. The Huskies would score the equalizer in the second half as the game ended in a 1-1 tie.
Ljucovic said that the goal and the ensuing celebration with his teammates being cheered raucously by the Zag faithful made the moment his most special on the pitch for the Bulldogs.
Although the Zags were able to finish that season without any hiccups, they had to wait upwards of a year before resuming play as their fall season was postponed to the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This hurdle coupled with the fact that the Zags welcomed 11 freshman to the team has made for a strained transition for the Zags this season.
The Bulldogs currently sit at 2-7-0 (0-4-0) with four games remaining in their spring season.
“This year, with 11 new recruits and a whole new team we have so much potential," Ljucovic said. "We know with this weird pandemic season that this record does not show the quality of players we have."
Besides excelling on the pitch, Ljucovic is an ambitious individual that at one point in time wanted to join the FBI before pivoting to a psychology major. One goal he hasn’t pivoted from is wanting to be drafted in the MLS.
“When it comes to my personal play, I’m responsible for the decisions I make and what I do,” Ljucovic said. “My personal goals will only succeed if the team succeeds. The team comes first always.”
Ljucovic looks up to Aston Villa forward Jack Grealish and his dribbling ability. Take one look at Ljucovic’s highlight reels from high school and college, and you’ll see that dribbling and passing through defenders is also his best skill.
After falling to the University of Portland 2-1, the Zags look to bounce back in a road contest against the University of Santa Clara on March, 28 at 1 p.m.