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Student Athlete of the Week: Ashlynn Stephan

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Editor's note: Each week, The Wake Weekly will honor a local high school senior athlete who put in years of work in a sport, but who may not finish their final season after COVID-19 caused spring sports to be postponed. 

WAKE FOREST - This week's student-athlete of the week is Franklin Academy girls soccer player Ashlynn Stephan.

As the youngest of three sisters, Stephan grew up among competition her entire life. She was born in Knightdale and moved to Wake Forest in 2007.

Her oldest sister, Kiera, started going to Franklin Academy in third grade. Her next older sister, Niamh, attended in kindergarten and Ashlynn followed right after her.

Stephan has been playing organized soccer since she was 6 years old. She said her two older sisters influenced her in a positive way to play the team-oriented sport with them.

"My older sisters had an impact on me playing soccer," Stephan said. "It was something we could do together. My passion for soccer grew and I kept up with it. It distresses me and brings me joy."

When she entered middle school, Stephan took an interest in tennis after her English teacher coached her and got her to play. Stephan carried that passion for tennis into high school, playing both on the court and soccer on the field.

As a tennis player, Stephan racked up 52 total wins between both singles and doubles play. She got the chance to enjoy playing side by side with her sister, Niamh, as a doubles team.

However, Stephan said that if she had to choose one sport, she would prefer soccer. Tennis is an individual sport, whereas soccer is more focused around the team playing as one unit, which is an aspect of the game Stephan admires the most.

"I've done soccer the longest and it gives me a connection between me and my sisters," Stephan added.

As both midfielder and defender, Stephan excelled playing with her two sisters. During her freshman year, she scored eight goals and dished out two assists. 

In her sophomore season, she scored seven goals and recorded 19 assists. The very next season, she registered seven goals and seven assists. 

Even though she's the youngest of three sisters, Stephan has carried herself as a leader both on and off the field.

"I think leadership is something I've took on," Stephan said. "I was captain of my club soccer team for a few years. It has built up and I like the leadership role. My coach saw the traits in me that he wants in a captain."

Stephan's leadership was praised even more by her head coach John Crosland. He applauded her for her friendly attitude among teammates.

"Ashlynn embodies the characteristics of a student-athlete that represents Franklin Academy so well," Crosland said. "She's a high achiever in the classroom, a high performer on athletics and an active contributor to our local community. She's a vocal leader and a natural friend to those she comes into contact with."

Stephan was ready to continue that leadership role as a senior this year. However, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced that school sports will be postponed until May 18 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We figured something would happen eventually," Stephan said. "At practice, we were running outside and we had a team meeting. Our coach told us that we had to cancel. Since then, we've had Zoom meetings to stay together and connected."

Despite having her senior season cut short, Stephan still had the chance to play the sport she loves with the people she loves the most. She said she's learned so much from her two older sisters in both soccer and life.

"Growing up with my sisters, I've learned to never quit," Stephan said. "Kiera tore up her knee in her junior year and recovered from that. She has found a way to recoup and become stronger. She changed her whole attitude for life. She stayed positive through all of it."

Stephan added that she cherished each moment playing tennis and soccer with Niamh, who is only one year older than her. They got to play in two 1A girls soccer state championships together as teammates.

"Niamh helps me keep up the joy in everything," Stephan said. "We always found a way to work together. We always try to keep a smile on our face about everything."

After she graduates, Stephan will attend Appalachian State University to study business. She plans on playing on the school's club team and see where her love for soccer goes from there.

For now, she's finishing up her final semester at Franklin Academy, where she has left a strong impact on the soccer players who look to compete again next year.

"I would tell my teammates to not take advantage of anything," Stephan said. "We've had a positive outlook on this season and the girls should enjoy their season next year. They should make good memories and focus on the positive things of life."