THE GRIND: Pinecrest Academy Soccer Star Ashley TriplettShot by Paul Dybas Edited by Paul Dybas
Ashley Triplett sat in her eighth-grade English class in Memphis, Tennessee, sure of how to complete her assignment. Write your resolutions for the year, she was told, and so the soccer-crazed goalie got to work.
I want to do really well on my state Olympic Development Program team, she wrote.
I want to do really well on my club team.
Someday, I’m going to play in college.
Four years later, Triplett can check that last resolution off her list after signing to play for West Virginia University earlier this month. But she couldn’t have known the lengths she and her family would go to make it happen: playing on a high school boys team in middle school, then being told she couldn’t in ninth grade; moving states twice, including to Florida to attend the controversial IMG Academy; and coming to Pinecrest Academy, the small private Catholic school she’s made her final stop before joining one of the premier Division I women’s soccer programs in the country.
“Soccer has always been my love, like my passion,” Triplett said. “Whenever I play, it’s like I’m home.”
Triplett gave her energy to all manner of sports growing up: basketball, cross country, lacrosse, golf, swimming, tennis. She played baseball for a time (“Until they kicked me off the team for being a girl,” she said). She even gave volleyball a try for the first time this past fall, making the Lady Paladins state playoff varsity team (“I was like, senior year, why not?” she said).
But at 13, she chose soccer over swimming, the team sport over individual pursuit, and she didn’t ease in. Triplett packed her schedule with extra work, including weight lifting with a personal trainer, private goalkeeping lessons with a private coach and camps at the IMG Academy.
Her confidence soared when she tried for and made the Tennessee State Soccer Association’s Olympic Development Program, the organizing body which the US National Teams pick talent that rises up the state, regional and national levels.
“It really opened my eyes,” Triplett said. “I was like, ‘I’m actually good at this.’”
Triplett had been playing soccer with boys teams through middle school, hopeful the challenge would expedite her development, but the Tennessee Soccer Youth Association told her she couldn’t do the same in high school.
So her family moved to Bradenton, Florida, and Triplett enrolled at IMG Academy, the for-profit sports boarding school owned and run by the global sports management company. She hoped for a chance to be pushed by the best coaches and mentors, augmented by the best facilities, to prepare for the college level.
When she got there, IMG didn’t have enough players to field a freshman team.
“That was kind of interesting,” Triplett quipped.
No matter. Triplett served as an understudy on a team of upperclassmen, shagging balls and working on technique on the side.
“It really grew my mental strength and ability to adapt to adversity,” Triplett said, “just being able to look at this as a situation where, you know, it kind of stinks. I don’t really have a team or a coach, but I’m going to use this for what it is and make the most of it and just get as good as I can with the circumstances that I’m in.”
Triplett’s patience paid off. The program’s numbers improved the following year, and Triplett started in goal, helping IMG win the National Premier League championship. Around the same time, she verbally committed to West Virginia.
By then, Triplett started to need a chance from IMG Academy, so her West Virginia coaches steered her toward a Georgia team in the Elite Clubs National League out of the Atlanta area. Triplett started attending IMG during the week and flying up to Atlanta for ECNL tournaments on the weekends.
“It was just a whole ‘nother level of players and talent that I had not been exposed to,” Triplett said.
Triplett moved to Georgia by herself so she could play in the ECNL full-time, living with former Lambert standout Maggie Hanusek for six months until her family could move. It was there she met Pinecrest Academy girls coach Domenic Martelli and learned about the Lady Paladins. Pinecrest was in need of a good keeper. Triplett was in need of a home.
“I was kind of skeptical at first,” Triplett said. “Pinecrest is very different. … The more I gave people chances, the more and more I hung out with people and hung out with them outside the classroom, have just made amazing friendships here.”
Triplett also helped Pinecrest reach the Class 1A private school playoffs, falling in the second round to eventual state runner-up Atlanta International School. Triplett was named first-team all-county after allowing just 0.89 goals a game with nine shutouts.
Triplett and the Lady Paladins hope for even more this season, and Triplett is training harder than ever. She’s already started her college training regimen with daily weight lifting and conditioning. Triplett turned a second period study hall into weight training to get her lifting done early in the day. She finds time to run after practice or homework. She still works with a private goalie coach, too.
Triplett has come too far to slow down now.
“The thought of doing anything it takes to be successful, to do what it takes to succeed, just gets me through those hard workouts,” Triplett said.