Soccer is a way of life for the members of the Epic Pride Under 18 Girls Soccer team. The group is the defending U18 state champion from last year and head to Beckley May 17 and 18 to defend that title.
Coach Tristan Longnecker explained that the team is made up of 17 players with 11 playing on the field at one time. The team often travels out of the area to play, Longnecker said, because other areas offer more competitive teams than can be found locally.
This year, he said, the team has focused on collegiate play. The girls had the opportunity to compete against several college teams, all while continuing their regular league play.
The team faced and defeated teams from Davis & Elkins and West Liberty University, with a score of 1-0 in both games. They lost a close match to Shepherd University with a 1-0 score on a penalty kick.
Rachel Ransom, a member of the team and Shepherdstown resident, plays forward and midfield. Ransom shared that she has played soccer since she was eight years old, for a total of 10 years. She and teammate Kiersten Barnholt, of Shenandoah Junction, have played those entire 10 years together.
"We have been on every team together since starting," Barnhold said.
The two will face separation after this season as they travel to different colleges. One will attend Shepherd University while the other heads off to West Virginia Wesleyan. The two will, for the first time, compete against each other.
"I'm glad we'll play against each other," Ransom said. "We make each other play better, especially playing opposite positions."
But before the separation comes, the two will play in the state championship against the Charleston Rowdies, the U17 defending champs. The team already faced the Rowdies to get into the States.
Kylie Nelson, a Washington High School student on the U18 team said, "They were tough but we can take them."
The girls attribute added skills to playing against the college teams.
"It is cool to see the level of college play," Nelson said. "It shows us what we need to work toward."
Ransom agreed saying, "The college games helped us to win State."
Barnholt said that it has definitely been worth all of the practices and effort to play the sport. The Epic team practices and/or plays games usually four times per week.
In addition to Ransom, Barnholt and Nelson, the team includes Shepherdstown residents Stella Barrat and Morgan Vanderpool; Charles Town residents Erin Buchanan, Stephanie DeLawder and Kaleigh Pierce; Jordan Devine from Ranson; Kayde Gustavel from Kearneysville, Natalie Reinford of Summit Point and Jessica Shakesprere of Harpers Ferry. Berkeley County players include Kaitlyn Foster, Hedgesville, Lauree Lorensen, Alexandra Miller and Courtney Webb from Martinsburg. Alyssa Jones, of Hagerstown, Md. rounds out the roster.
Joining Longnecker on the coaching staff are assistants Monika Foster and Ashley Warfield. Sue Buchanan serves as team manager.
In addition to their practice and play time, the girls recently had the opportunity to serve as ball girls during a DC United match nationally televised on ESPN2.