The 2016 Forsyth County Player of the Year series is presented by Nalley Roofing.
Carsen Parker learned a valuable lesson in 2016.
Never doubt yourself.
The long-time soccer player who once dreamed of having a professional career admits that dream has transformed into a daunting task as she's gotten older and gained more experience—ironic, almost. But she counteracts that admission with a new-found perspective of hope, belief and determination that she discovered on the court, and eventually the soccer field during her junior year at West Forsyth.
Parker had her first taste of unprecedented playoff success for a West team when the Lady Wolverines’ basketball squad advanced to the state semifinals four of the Class AAAAAA basketball playoffs, eventually falling to state champion McEachern. She still was enjoying the ride more than she was coveting the moment.
“All I had to do was bring the ball up the floor, really. I'm not going to lie,” Parker laughed.
Still, as a point guard, Parker always touched the ball—every play that Jenna Staiti scored on. So, when Parker and four other basketball teammates joined the soccer team, which had already played a third of its schedule, the playoff mentality had yet to wear off.
It was improbable, if not a Cinderella story, that the Lady Wolverines soccer team would advance farther than the basketball team did. They were 7-9 a year before. They finished 16-5-1 overall, 8-1 in region play and defeated Cobb County powers in Walton and Harrison to make the state championship against Lassiter.
Parker looks back on what her team did and still can't believe it, but also is excited for her senior season. She thinks next year the team will be even better. Suddenly she's looking at herself and her team as elite.
“I thought this season would be terrible. I even told my club team, and everything surprised me,” Parker said. “We had a couple of freshmen, Kylie Gazza and A.J. Needham, who came in and helped tremendously. But we really just took it game by game. Last season we would lose and be used to it. This year we beat South Forsyth in PKs—we lost to them in PKs last year—and it just kind of clicked that we could beat good teams.
“It's been crazy. Definitely the most memorable year of my life, so far.”
Parker was a double-edged sword for the Lady Wolverines. As a defender she was the constant answer to opposing attacks, often approaching anxious situations with calm, composure and fundamentals that would settle down the entire defense.
But she also has a knack for scoring, which is why head coach Jason Bayush would often move her to the forward position in the middle of games. Parker was not only the best defender on the second best team in the state, but she was a deadly and clutch scorer. She finished the year with a team-high 10 goals, including one off a corner in the quarterfinal against Harrison that swung the game just moments after she made a clutch stop on her goalie's end.
She's slowly beginning to realize that she might be pretty good.
FCN: The Walton game had to have been memorable for you. What was the moment like when things suddenly swung in your favor?
Parker: It just kind of happened. I remember blocking the shot that would have given them the lead, really close to the goal, and then just seconds later on a corner kick...I just knew we had to get one in. We had prom that day so we were joking, like, 'We cannot let this game get to overtime.' We had to beat them. It was an awesome feeling.
FCN: You're committed to play at Arkansas with teammate Brooke Pirkle. What's it like knowing where your future lies at such a young age but continuing to focus on the tasks at hand?
Parker: It's not too weird. With girls’ sports a lot of times the offers come a lot earlier. We felt really comfortable, Brooke and I, to commit together. We're very good friends and the coaches knew some of our coaches well, so it just felt like a perfect fit.
FCN: You'll be playing in the SEC when your college career begins. Does playing against elite teams like Lambert, Johns Creek, South Forsyth and the playoff teams have a benefit?
Parker: Absolutely, we were just talking about that. Coach Bayush wants us to play the best competition we can at the high school level. Even in club you play great teams, but in high school it's not limited to an age group so it actually can be very challenging.
FCN: So you have a year left in this thing. What are your goals for next season?
Parker: To have a better one than this one. A state championship. There's expectations now because we had such a good year, we only lose two seniors and we are actually going to get some good freshmen too. We are hoping we should be even better. And for me and the juniors, it will be our last year so we want it to be one to remember.