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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 won’t finish their final season after COVID-19 ended spring athletics.
WAKE FOREST — This week’s student-athlete of the week is Heritage girls soccer player Olivia Neal.
The defender was born in Massachusetts and then her family moved to Wake Forest when she was 4 years old. She has an older sister named Shelby, who competes in CrossFit and weight lifting contests.
Neal has been around the sport of soccer for as long as she can remember. Her father was a soccer player in Africa and wanted to pass down his love for the sport down to his daughter.
“My dad played soccer while growing up in Africa,” Neal said. “It’s a sport he wanted me to play, too. I’ve been playing since I was 4 years old. I was doing gymnastics, but I quit at 12 years old to commit more to soccer. I like the team aspect of the sport.”
Neal has been on Heritage’s varsity girls soccer team since she was a sophomore. In her first season as a starter her junior year, Neal scored two goals and registered four assists.
It turned out to be a memorable year for Neal, as she helped her team win their first 4A state championship in program history. The Huskies went 20-3 overall under head coach Scott Sloan and defeated Pinecrest in penalty kicks May 25, 2019.
It’s the first time a Heritage team sport had won a tournament-style state championship. The only other team to win a state title for the Huskies was the cheerleading squad. Wrestler Anthony Brito won an individual state championship. Danny Renard also won an individual state title for indoor track this past winter.
For Neal, the greatest part about winning a state championship was the relationship she built with her team. Neal said playing for Heritage’s soccer program is something she will never forget.
“Playing for Heritage is so much fun,” Neal said. “I feel like the mom of the team for the underclassmen coming in. I want to be a leader for them. High school soccer develops a lot of relationships and that’s really fun.”
Heritage was prepared to defend their state title this year. The Huskies were 5-0-1 after six games and just came off a convincing 6-0 win at Green Level. However, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association made the announcement to postpone spring sports and then ultimately cancel the 2020 spring sports season due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I remember Coach Sloan sat us down after practice and told us that the season was postponed,” Neal said. “It was really sad. I’m going to miss playing with all my senior teammates. The coaches always believed in me and trusted in me on and off the field to keep the team together. They are also very committed to us as players.”
Neal and the rest of the senior Huskies will never get another chance to defend their state title. That will be up to the underclassmen heading into next season. Neal said she also misses the chance to play Heritage’s rivals one last time.
“The weeks following that news was super sad, especially for the seniors,” Neal said. “This season ended so suddenly. That was really hard for us. We also really wanted to play Wakefield one more time. It was sad not to play against them or Wake Forest again.”
Despite this year’s shortcomings, Neal’s soccer playing days are not over yet. She will play on scholarship at Campbell University. She will also study pre-Med to become a physician assistant.
Before she graduates and attends Campbell, Neal has one last message for those who are looking forward to playing soccer again next year.
“Never let any obstacle come in the way of your dreams,” Neal said. “Always trust yourself in what you want to do. Trust in your abilities on the field and off the field. If you do that, you can accomplish your goals.”