Hopewell soccer star Boyle keeps things in proper perspective

by Chris Hunt

It’s the last drill of a Hopewell High School girls soccer practice, and some of the players’ focus begins to wander. At this point of the April 29 practice, short conversations and some laughter can be heard during coach Robb Bolar’s silly, end-of-the-day game, which he calls World Cup Ha Ha.

While play half-heartily continues, the girls slide in jokes about one of two topics of the day: England’s Royal Wedding or the next day’s Hopewell Prom. As the laughter builds, even Bolar trades a few one-liners as he playfully fills in as the drill’s goalkeeper.

After all, Bolar chose this final drill to keep things loose and interesting for his players.

But one Titan refuses to let down her guard. Senior Audrey Boyle is still playing World Cup Ha Ha with the same purpose she was the first drill of practice – to win. The Titans’ starting center back and team captain pursues the ball with the same intensity that earned her back-to-back all-conference selections and an all-region nod last year.

“I get really competitive when I play,” laughed Boyle after practice. “Soccer is all I can focus on unless it’s a water break or something. It’s the only sport I’ve ever played, and it’s what I love to do.”

Boyle carries that same intensity from Hopewell’s practice field to their game-day pitch. Her relentless play earned her a starting spot on Hopewell’s varsity team for the last four seasons. She’s been an all-conference defender the last two years, making a name for herself by attacking the ball without fear of collision. Sometimes, she even scares her own teammates.

“She’s very intimidating,” said Hopewell junior Emma Cathill. “If you have the ball and she’s coming at you, you just instinctively flinch. She’s so quiet and sweet in person, but she knows how to attack the ball.”

Boyle’s aggressive style was forged from years of soccer with her older brother, Vincent, who played at Hopewell and graduated in 2009. When Vincent joined the North Mecklenburg Soccer Club’s 11-12 club team, his younger sister tagged along and was often allowed to practice with the squad. To this day, Boyle still plays soccer with her older brother, even joining him for pick-up games at Huntersville’s Strikers Soccer Center.

“My brother has always pushed me to be a better player,” said Boyle. “He started playing at five years old and I was just the younger sibling who tagged along. The club coach let me practice with the boys and that helped me a lot because they are so much more physical and skilled.”

And, oh, how proud Vincent would have been to see his little sister in her final regular-season game against rival North Mecklenburg on April 28. With the Titans up 1-0, Boyle iced the game with an impressive individual effort. The Titan took the ball at midfield, maneuvered past six Viking defenders and fired a shot past the keeper.

“She just took the ball and kept going,” said Bolar. “She probably beat six or seven people and put it away in the net. I looked at my coaching staff and said, ‘She’s crazy good.’”

Playing with a broken heart

Soccer is a sanctuary for Boyle. The field is a place where she can forget about things for a while and deal with the frustrations life has thrown in her direction. We’re not talking about trivial things such as a tough test at school or a difficult time with friends. We’re talking about tragic, emotional situations that test a teenager way too early in life.

We’re talking about last August when Boyle’s father died.

Greg Boyle succumbed to lung cancer. Boyle only had a few months after the diagnosis to prepare for the inevitable. Eight months later, it’s still understandably difficult for her to accept the loss of her father. Moments after the recent practice, she struggled to keep her eyes dry as she remembered her father and his impact on her life and soccer career.

“He was always there after the game when he could be there,” said Boyle, fighting back tears. “He was always in the parking lot playing the Queen song ‘We Are the Champions’ in his pickup truck to get everyone fired up before and after the games.”

Now, before every game and practice, Boyle still thinks about her father and tries her best to make him proud, even if Queen’s anthem isn’t heard in the parking lot anymore. Not once did Boyle expect pity from her teammates, not once did she give up because life is unfair. She simply returned this spring to lead the Titans to a 10-4-2 mark and third place in the I-MECK 4A conference with two regular season matches remaining.

“It’s been tough for her, but she doesn’t want it to be a big deal to the girls on the team,” said Bolar. “I talked to her about it, and she didn’t want it to be the focus of this season.”

Next fall, Boyle will play college soccer for Appalachian State. There, she’ll study graphic design. Boyle finds comfort knowing that the Boone campus is in the same mountain range her father often took her family to over the years.

“It sucks a lot that he won’t be there to watch me play,” said Boyle, “but I feel a special connection to Appalachian State. He took us hiking all the time in Blowing Rock, near Boone. It’s a special place for me.

“It will definitely be tough in August (when I leave for Appalachian State) because that’s the anniversary (of his death),” said Boyle. “I’ll just have to pull through it.”

Just as she does every Hopewell practice. Even if it’s a simple game of World Cup Ha Ha.