In all sports, on all teams, there is a player on the field whom the other players rely on for inspiration, direction and leadership.  These players are usually time-tested veterans; a designated captain who consistently has huge game-time impacts either physically or vocally.

But this 2010 season, the Friends School girls’ soccer team is taking a stroll off the beaten path and not only has two distinct leaders on the field, but they are at two different times of their lives.

For four years, senior Jessica Van Dyke has been gracing the Quakers’ soccer field with her athletic talents and natural leadership.  And for a senior, it is easy through battles on the field to gain respect and develop chemistry with her fellow upperclassmen.  

But what about a senior developing that same relationship with a freshman?

In her first season, freshman Eliza Harris has proved herself a defensive gem to her teammates of all ages, and is a true leader of the Quaker defense.

“They {Van Dyke and Harris] get a long great and they feed off each other,” Quakers’ head coach Nick Gill. “Both are super intense and have great leadership.  

Eliza is our leader in the back, and Jessica is our other field general. They both lead by example and both give 100 percent every single time they step between the lines.”

Van Dyke’s Journey

With her speed and agility up front, Van Dyke is a true offensive leader and leads the team in scoring, lacing 11 of the team’s 23 goals, all while assisting on another four.  And while she has always been a spectacular striker, Gill says Van Dyke is still evolving.

“Between last year and this year, she has become a much more skilled player on the ball,” Gill admitted.  “She is controlling the game, has a number of assists, helps balls through the infield and has just become a more complete player.”

Jessica Van DykeAs a freshman, Van Dyke was a little hesitant, feeling she “had to show respect to the seniors” and would sometimes not be “selfish” with the ball.

“I sometimes wasn’t selfish enough and sometimes I didn’t get things done that needed to be done,” Van Dyke said.  “As I progressed and got older, I look back and wish I wasn’t to intimidated at times. I learned to be able to play for myself and my teams, and making the plays that need to be made to better our team.”

Those plays she has been making have helped the Quakers to a top four position in the IAAM B Conference, behind leaders Bryn Mawr School and Severn School.

“I feel as if Jessica feels a little more comfortable with making a few more runs than she did before,” Gill said, “knowing in the back of her mind that Eliza can clean up anything in the back.  Both their motors never stop.”

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

In the team’s first 10 games this season, Harris has accounted for seven assists and one goal all as a defender.

So how does she consistently put herself in the books as an offensive weapon?  Harris is a striker.

Harris takes nearly all the Quakers’ corners and free kicks, and, in doing so, has assisted four of Van Dyke’s goals: two from free kicks and two from live play.

“Whenever we have free kicks, we always lock eyes and I will either point to my head or point to the defender I want it over,” Van Dyke says of Harris’ play. “She just knows exactly where we are playing it.

She plays a lot of out-of-school soccer, and so do I, so we both connect on our higher levels and bring in our experiences.  She reads the game like I read it, so I know where she wants to play the ball and it leads to this connection that you just can’t explain.”

Van Dyke sees Harris more than just another freshman.

“She is my buddy, too, so that really helps.  But we don’t look at each other as seniors and freshmen.  When we all play together, we are all teammates and friends. I love how I can rely on her.  She is a good teammate and a good player.”

The Young Leader Emerges

Harris was a leader even before she set foot on the field for the Friends’ varsity. Besides playing her middle school ball for Friends, she was also a leader for her U-15 Bays club team, which made it the State Cup Finals last year, narrowly missing a chance to compete for the national title.

“She has just been a tremendous player coming on as a freshman,” Gill said.  “As soon as she stepped on the field, it was an incredible thing to see.

Eliza HarrisEliza, to me, with her level of leadership, is just like having another senior on the team.  I am very privileged to have her, as a freshman, be that great of a leader.”

Speaking for her defensive play, Harris is already considered one of the top defenders in the IAAM B Conference, but it isn’t her only role on the team.

“She has really stepped into the role and welcomed the leadership,” Gill said of Harris, who takes nearly all the Quakers’ free kicks and corners. “Even the older girls look up to her just because of the way she carries herself on the field. She’s a pleasure to coach and will be a huge name in the Baltimore soccer scene for years to come.”

“It’s a lot of pressure but its not just all me,” Harris said about running the defense. “Our defense works together, and it isn’t just me controlling everything.  With that, I also feel responsible for marking, so I figure out how I can best help my team and take that responsiblity.”

Stepping to the College Level

Van Dyke has the potential to play at the next level. She’s being looked at by a number of Division I schools, including Loyola College and the University of Maryland.

“Athletically, she is as gifted as any Division I woman athlete,” Gill said. “Her speed and physicality; she is built for Division I competition.”  

With all she brings to the table, Van Dyke still acknowledges she has more to work on to be at the next level.  And not only that, but this go-getter doesn’t want to settle for being “just any” college athlete. She wants to be a star.

“Technically, I would like to get better because I feel I have it athletically,” Van Dyke said.  “At the collegiate level, they play at a very fast pace and most players are equal. I want to make sure I have one quality that no one else has.”

“The pace is there,” Gill reinforces, “and there will be very few girls that can catch Jessica Van Dyke in a sprint.  She is really making the jump from a high school level to the top Division I soccer level.”

Athletics are not the only thing driving Van Dyke to college, but her desire to be earn a law degree.  Explaining her families long time devotion to Georgetown’s Law School, Van Dyke would one day like to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather, uncle and mother.

“I love what my mother does,” Van Dyke laughed.  “My mom ta
kes on the real tough girl act, and she is a business girl now, so now she is the little business girl who has the big voice of all the big business men. I like that.”

A Bright Future for the Young Star

The young yet experienced Harris will undoubtedly be looked upon to be the leader of the Quakers’ varsity for the next three years. While some would question a youngster being able to carry the weight on an entire team on her shoulders, both Gill and Van Dyke would be the first to argue.

“She is already a leader on the field, but she will progress more as an emotional leader as she ages,” Van Dyke predicts. “Experience, talking to people and getting to know them, she is going to easily become the leader on this team.”

“The sky is the limit for Eliza Harris,” Gill said.  “By the time she graduates, she will have her pick at where she wants to play at the next level.  

She is that type of player, and not just in the game, but in practice day in and day out.  That’s what really separates a good player from a great player.”

With her current success this year, Harris is already excited about her future.

“It is really cool to be able to think about the future and how I and the team are going to grow together,” Harris said.  “It is not just me who is going to be the foundation. There are five freshman on the team, and we are all going to grow together.”

(For videos of the Quakers’ recent Big Sisters Day at Friends School 2010, visit the related videos link at the top)