Jessica McCauley, Lillian McEntire and Abigail Persson played soccer for three different local high schools, but the three friends will end their high school careers together next week in the Arkansas High School Coaches Association All-Star Game in Conway.
McCauley played for Central Arkansas Christian; McEntire played for North Little Rock; and Persson played for Sylvan Hills. They’ll play for the East on Wedneday, June 25, at Bill Stephens Field on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
They will report Monday and practice Monday afternoon and Tuesday in advance of the game.
"I am really honored to be representing my school, but I’m so excited to get to play with Lillian and Abigail," McCauley said. "Us three have grown up playing together."
Persson said the three played for several years in elementary and middle school for the Arkansas Soccer Club’s Electra.
McCauley grew up in North Little Rock and attended elementary school at Victory Baptist School with Persson until making the move to Mustang Mountain as a fifth-grader. She has played soccer with McEntire since they were in first grade.
McCauley’s Lady Mustangs came up just short of successfully defending their Class 4A state title this spring, falling to Valley View, the eventual state champion, in the semifinals.
That’s another reason she’s glad for this re-do.
"I didn’t get to go out like I hoped we would, so I was so excited when I got the call asking me to play," she said. "I get to do it one more time."
McCauley, a keeper, will head to Ouachita Baptist University to play in the fall.
She said her goal for All-Star Week was to enjoy the experience.
"Most definitely," she said. "There won’t be so much pressure. It will just be a fun game and a good way to end my (high school) career."
Persson was a midfielder for Sylvan Hills, which reached the semifinals of the Class 5A State Tournament this spring. The Lady Bears fell to Harrison, which went on to beat Pulaski Academy for the title.
She said that was the furthest any Lady Bear soccer team had ever gone.
"It was pretty cool," she said. "I’m just really thankful for the experience I got to have in high school playing soccer. It was different from most high school soccer teams because at my school we don’t have soccer players; we just recruit athletes. I was one of the few who had played soccer before, and I had to kind of carry the team. "
She’s played her sport forever and played with boys early in her career.
"I was challenged a lot more and able to be quicker and tougher," she said. "When I switched over to girls, it was a lot easier for me. I really developed a lot in the early years of my life so I could carry the team in high school."
She said Sylvan Hills’ usual strategy was to put the better soccer players back on defense and use a basketball player at goalie.
"And basically, my job every game was to score," she said, estimating that she scored 130 goals during her high school career. "I’d kind of play everywhere on the field to cover everything because we don’t have much experience, but I was impressed with the girls on my team. A lot of times, I didn’t feel like I had to do everything. They were really enthusiastic about getting better at soccer, and so determined. They always had a good attitude about it and really had a great time. We had some pretty good success for what we were. By my senior year, I had a lot of help on the field."
Persson will play next year for Liberty University in Virginia. She earned an academic scholarship, tried out for the team and got one of two available positions.
"It’s a Division I school, and just to be able to play at that level is a dream come true," she said. "That was really amazing for me. I’d been praying about it a lot, and the Lord provided for me."
Persson said she, too, was looking forward to playing with her old teammates one last time.
"I love playing with Lillian and Jessica," she said. "They’re so enthusiastic, and they always work hard on the field, but they’re never too into it so they’re yelling in a demeaning way. They’re always uplifting. It’ll bring back a lot of old memories. I’m excited."
McEntire played center defender for the Lady Charging Wildcats, who fell in the first round of the Class 7A State Tournament to Rogers. During her junior year, they reached the second round.
All-Star Week will be her competitive finale. She has accepted a full scholarship to the UCA Honors College and will focus on being a student.
"I want to do good, of course, but I just want to enjoy my time," she said of the All-Star opportunity. "It’s going to be awesome to play with them. I’m going to miss it."
She had some offers to play collegiately at a few Division III schools but declined those.
"I wasn’t interested in going to a place just to play soccer if I didn’t like the school," she said, adding that she would likely major in something like biology or kinesiology in hopes of someday becoming an optometrist.
For these three amigas, All-Star Week is all about the relationships.