Fort Mill girls soccer fans have had a lot to cheer about this year.
The team is off to a 9-4 start with a 5-0 record in the region, and some matches have featured impressive goals or heroic efforts from the teams' promising new stars, including junior Taylor Parker. But for many fans, it's hard to forget the Jackets' star from a year ago, Ashleigh Sheets, who lit up the field for much of her Fort Mill career.
Sheets, now a freshman at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., played and started in all but one of the matches during the Black Knights' season last fall, as well as weaving her way through the extremely busy and hectic life of a military officer-in-training.
"It's a total change," Sheets said about her new surroundings. "From 6:30 in the morning to 11:30 at night there are no big breaks - you just try and find a place to take a nap for 20 minutes every now and then. But it's all about keeping a positive attitude."
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For Sheets, being on the soccer team made the transition into college, and military life, a little easier.
While going through some of the initial physical training required as a freshman, she was able to meet most of her freshman teammates and they helped each other through it.
"We did so many things I can't even believe I did, like learning how to throw a grenade or tying knots and repelling off cliffs with them. The training has a lot to do with ethics, honor, military life, first aid. You really drop down to the bottom and work your way up," she said.
Eventually, Sheets did make her way onto the soccer field, where she led the team in assists in her first season and was instrumental in helping Army finish with a 12-6-3 record and a Patriot League championship.
"Ashleigh is going to be an invaluable player for us. She has a great attitude and she hates to lose," said Head Coach Stephanie Golan. "One of the great things about Ashleigh is her versatility though. She will definitely find a way to be on the field and is a truly selfless player."
Sheets said winning the league championship game, a 1-0, double-overtime win against rival Navy, was the highlight of her season.
"Winning the championship at Navy, against Navy, was the most rewarding part," she said.
During the past few months, Sheets has been playing on the spring soccer team, which does not include the graduating seniors and acts as a way for the returning players to work together and prepare for next fall's season.
The busiest part of Sheet's life, however, has been outside of the athletic fields, where she has become involved in multiple organizations on top of her school schedule.
"I haven't decided on a major yet," Sheets said.
"It may be a language, maybe Portuguese... one of the big reasons I decided to come here is because I want to travel."
She already went to Malaysia for spring break, and this summer, through a group in the school's Social Sciences Department, she will spend time in Ghana working with local business owners, helping them use technology and modern practices, such as marketing, to improve and develop their businesses.
Sheets is also part of a big sister program. Once a week she spends time tutoring or socially interacting with a sixth grade student in need of support and in her free time, she is part of a Christian fellowship group that meets around campus.
Her mother, Angela Sheets, said she and Ashleigh had some reservations about Ashleigh attending a military academy, but by the time Ashleigh made her decision, they were both excited about it.
"It was one of those things we left up to Ashleigh completely. When we heard about all of the opportunities for travel and international studies, we got behind her and gave her our full support," she said. "Ashleigh wanted to make a difference outside of Fort Mill... and we're proud of her."
While Ashleigh's family may miss her often, as she only gets the chance to visit home a few times a year, that's not the only place in Fort Mill where she left a mark.
"She definitely set an example of how to lead the team, how to bring the team together," said Taylor Parker, this year's team captain at Fort Mill. "She taught me how to involve the other players around me. She definitely did that well last year."