By Patrick O’Leary | WashingtonSpirit.com
The Washington Spirit’s 2018 roster features players from all across the United States and around the world. Four countries including Argentina, Canada, and Nigeria are represented while players from 12 U.S. states fill out the squad. The diverse makeup of the team is not unusual for a professional soccer club until a closer look at the roster reveals that three hail from the same Ohio hometown.
The city of Cincinnati is home to goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe, midfielder Tori Huster and midfielder Rose Lavelle. Each unique to the squad, they are the only three players from the Queen City playing in the National Women’s Soccer League. Even more notable, Tori’s younger sister, Maddie Huster, made the roster as well until she was waived on July 25 to pursue opportunities overseas with Swedish club Kvarnsvedens IK.
“Southern Ohio is really a hotbed for soccer,” Bledsoe said. “In Cincinnati and the surrounding areas there are a lot of good clubs with a lot of very talented players with coaches that have been there for a long time who really invest in the youth. Having a lot of great teams with really strong players who play in your backyard I think that for sure helped make me the player I am today.”
The Cincinnati trio share the same hometown, but hold a uniqueness in age. Huster, the Spirit’s all-time leader in appearances, is 28-years old and two years older Bledsoe (26), with Lavelle being the youngest from the Queen City on the Spirit at 23-years old.
Despite the age differences, in coming to the Spirit the athletes were no strangers. Bledsoe and Huster graduated from St. Ursula Academy. Tori was a senior when Bledsoe was a sophomore at the high school. At the time, more than having age seniority, Tori owned something Bledsoe did not: a driver’s license.
“Tori actually drove me to practice in high school,” Bledsoe said. “I was a sophomore and she was a senior and I didn’t have my license so I got to carpool with Tori. She was the veteran senior player and leader so I really looked up to Tori and she kind of took me under her wing.”
Later, it would then be Bledsoe taking the younger Huster sister under her wing. While Bledsoe and Maddie never played together at St. Ursula, the duo share a common collegiate alma mater.
“Maddie was looking at Wake Forest. When she visited I hosted her, and I would tell her ‘Maddie you have to come to Wake’ and I’d like to think that I helped persuade her to be a Demon Deacon,” smiled Bledsoe.
While Tori was giving rides to Bledsoe in high school, it was evident to her that Bledsoe was a special talent behind her in goal. The duo would play on different teams, including collegiately at different ACC schools where Tori played at Florida State, then on different NWSL teams for the early parts of their career. The two even played on different Australian W-League teams, as the two have spent NWSL off-seasons playing on loan in Australia.
“Aubrey has always been a commanding presence in goal,” Huster said. “Even when she was just 16, I felt comfortable as a midfielder having her behind me in the net. And it’s funny that now here we are at the Spirit and she is still that commanding presence in net. It’s great having her on the same team.”
Lavelle was the outlier and graduated from Mount Notre Dame High School—the rival high school of St. Ursula Academy. She played against Bledsoe during her freshman year when the goalkeeper was a senior. She was familiar with both Husters, playing against Maddie for three years and knowing of Tori for different reasons.
“It was fun to play against Aubrey and Maddie,” Lavelle said. “And I remember watching Tori because my sister played against her. I think Cincinnati has a lot of talent and having four players on this team from Cincinnati is so exciting and I think it’s a big testament to the type of soccer that is played in Cincinnati that I think flies under the radar. It’s funny how we all ended up here.”
From both ends of the spectrum, Tori and Bledsoe have spent a significant portion of their lives living away from Cincinnati. Both have enjoyed having others from home join them on the team to remind them of where they came from.
“I’ve been away from Cincinnati for so long,” the older Huster said. “It’s been great to have the others to help bring the feel of home to here. Whether that be the food and culture of Cincinnati or to have others who hold the same values and characteristics of home. I love it, it’s been so terrific.”
“We have a lot of the shared experiences. We love Skyline Chili and Graeter’s Ice Cream and we’ll throw in little high school jokes because we’ve kind of been cut from the same cloth,” Bledsoe said. “We were raised similarly and have good Midwestern values.”
Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, Lavelle has spent less time away from her hometown of Cincinnati. But the shared backgrounds are, as Lavelle views it, beneficial to each of them. On the soccer field, this chemistry only helps, even when the athletes did not necessarily play together much at a younger age.
“I feel like our off-the-field chemistry kind of translates on the field,” Lavelle said. “I love them as people so it makes it so much more fun to step up on the field and play for each other and have that sense of community with them.”
While the athletes are the only players from Cincinnati in the NWSL, each credit city soccer legend and former professional soccer player Heather Mitts for the impact she made on soccer in the Queen City. Mitts grew up in Cincinnati, and like Bledsoe and the Huster sisters, attended St. Ursula Academy. Mitts made 137 appearances for the United States Women’s National Team and was part of the gold medal winning teams at the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Summer Olympics.
As for the Spirit, each current player continues to compliment the NWSL franchise in their own ways. Bledsoe in her first season with Washington has had a breakout season protecting the goal for the Spirit. After a game against North Carolina Courage on July 11, one of her four saves in net earned her the No. 1 spot on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top-10 Plays for a miraculous full-extension save. She has led the NWSL in saves throughout the 2018 season.
Tori continues to extend her record for appearances in a Spirit uniform as a regular starter. She credits Tim Lesiak, who is the Director of Coaching for Ohio Elite Soccer, as a major figure in her soccer career. Huster is a fan favorite and always one of the most generous players post-game at Spirit home games when it comes to signing autographs for every excited young fan.
Lavelle battled injury for the early part of 2018, but has earned more playing time as she became healthier throughout the middle part of the season. A United States Women’s National Team breakout star in 2017, she joined the Spirit as part of a NWSL Dispersal Draft at the beginning of 2018. Lavelle was named to the 2018 Tournament of Nations roster for the United States, a crucial test ahead of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Maddie Huster, although her stint with the Washington Spirit closed in late July after nearly a month with the active roster, made it professional and was able to play with her older sister. The duo are the first ever sisters to play together for the Washington Spirit. Her top fan, Tori, said how it “means so much to me to see her reach her dream to become a professional. I’m so proud of her.”
“I’m obsessed with Cincinnati,” Lavelle said. “It’s my favorite place in the world. I love that I have people to talk about it with all the time. They understand my obsession with Skyline Chili and Graeter’s Ice Cream and all this stuff that I love I have people I can rave about it with. It makes it so much more fun, I feel like we’re a little group that nobody can really understand our obsession but it makes it that much greater. It’s my favorite place and my favorite sport combining.”
Perhaps, like Lavelle, it was meant to be that all four shared the field in 2018 with the Washington Spirit.