The Corbin Lady Hounds soccer team made history in 2015. They won 50th District and 13th Region titles, advancing all the way to the quarterfinal round of the KHSAA state championship playoffs before being defeated by eventual state runner-up Lexington Catholic.
Two young players, sophomores Nikki Wells and Abby Baker, have played integral roles in the team’s recent success.
Both girls earned special recognition for their play at the district, region and state levels, and now they are both being presented with the opportunity to represent their country as members of U16 national teams.
Wells will be traveling to Madrid this summer, along with other players from across the country, to compete for the Spain Cup. During the trip, which is scheduled for June 27-July 10, she will get to learn from professional soccer players before competing against other squads from around the globe, each vying to secure the coveted Spain Cup and bring it back to their home country.
This particular cup has never been brought back to the US, so Wells could be a part of the first-ever U16 national team to do so.
Wells received this amazing opportunity after she caught the eye of a coach formerly associated with the US Olympic Development Program (ODP). This coach reached out to her, inviting her to attend a tryout session in Lexington. She agreed, ended up making the cut and is now on her way to Europe as a member of a U16 national team.
Upon arriving in Spain, Wells said that she and her teammates will attend an opening ceremony. After that, she said that the team will participate in training sessions with the Spanish national team, and she will have the opportunity to do some sightseeing as well before competition gets underway.
During the course of the trip, Wells said that she is eager to learn more about how the sport is played in other parts of the world. This will be her first time traveling outside of the United States, so she expects it to be a very eye-opening experience. “When I first got the offer to come to tryouts I was kind of nervous,” she explained. “I couldn’t believe it was really happening, but once I got there I wasn’t really nervous anymore. I was mostly just excited. As the weeks have gone by, I have just wanted summer to get here so we can go. I know that when I get there, and when I’m standing on the field looking at all the people, it is going to be pretty cool.”
Baker’s trip will be taking place much sooner than Wells’. She will be in Amsterdam March 29-April 7, competing for the Holland Cup as a member of another U16 national team. She too will have the opportunity to train alongside professional players before meeting up with other athletes from around the world on the soccer pitch.
Baker understands that this is a very unique and valuable opportunity, saying, “For me, this is more of an exposure type thing. I’m going to be seen in front of professional players and coaches, so I want to act my best and play my best. It’s not a vacation for me, but we will get to go out and have some fun while sightseeing. That will be good.”
Baker has been involved with the ODP program for several years now, and she has worked very hard to get to this point. This is obviously very important to her personally, but in addition to benefitting her own career, she is also hoping that the experience will help soccer to be more widely recognized in this area.
“Growing up in Corbin, I’ve always been told that soccer isn’t a big deal around here, and that it’s not as important as other sports,” Baker said. “But for me and Nikki, this is our life. It’s all we do. Our goal is to be on the national team one day. I just want to show everybody that if you put your mind to it and work hard at it, you can do anything you want. You shouldn’t let people limit what you do.”
This will also be Baker’s first time traveling outside of the country, and aside from the plane ride, she said that she is feeling mostly excited right now. “I’m very lucky to be going,” she said. “Hopefully I can gain some knowledge about the game while I’m there. None of this would’ve been possible without my parents, coaches and teammates though, so I want to thank all of them.”
CHS girls soccer Head Coach Hannah Goins said of Wells and Baker, “I am extremely proud of them. They’re both excellent players, and are pretty much the core of our team. I’m just really excited for them to get this kind of an opportunity to represent not only the state of Kentucky, but the entire nation. I’m really proud of them for that.”
“I think it will be an amazing experience for both of them,” Goins continued. “The opportunity to train with national players and professional teams is a huge deal. I really hope that they will learn a lot while they are away.”
Goins said this is the first time that she can remember any players from this area having an opportunity such as this, adding that it certainly never happened when she was playing. “This is big,” she said. “The ODP program has come a long way. Soccer in our area has come a long way, and I think it is great that they are now providing these types of opportunities for our players.”
Goins ended by reiterating just how excited she is for her two star players, saying, “They both have great work ethic, and because of that these are the types of opportunities that they are going to get. I hope that others will learn from them and see that if you do work hard, you can achieve your goals.”
Baker said that updates from her trip should be posted regularly on the Kentucky Youth Soccer/ODP website – kysoccer.net.
Those interested will also be able follow along with what Wells’ team is doing later this summer, but the information on how to do so is currently not available. It will be passed along before she leaves for Spain this June, however.