Times Sports Editor
Northview High School graduate Abby Birkey's list of accomplishments on the soccer field are long, but they pale in comparison to the ones she has garnered in the classroom.
National Honor Society, Student Council, Excalibur, Bible Club and most recently, Birkey was the recipient of the Lilly Scholarship.
On the pitch, Birkey was a three-year member of the Northview soccer program, two-year team captain, all-conference and a member of the school's first girls' conference championship.
When it came time to make her decision on where to attend college, Birkey was drawn to Grace College and its mix of spirituality and higher learning.
She made a visit to the school during February for a scholarship contest and took advantage of a chance to play some soccer while she was there. As fate would have it, Grace's soccer coach Michael Voss liked what he saw.
"There were a lot of players there," said Birkey of the workout. "It's the first time that the coach had seen me play. In April, the coach called me and said that he was sorry that he hadn't contacted me earlier, but the girls' on the team thought I blended well with them."
Birkey, who had originally planned on playing on an intramural team while at school, now will be one of the newest members of the Grace College Lancers' soccer team.
"I just felt that was where God wanted me to be," said Birkey, who also had considered going to school in San Diego. "I really liked the atmosphere of the campus at Grace and it offered the education that I wanted too."
A major in Elementary Education and a minor in Youth Ministries will keep Birkey occupied in the classroom, but the soccer program will also provide a unique travel opportunity this summer.
The team will take a mission trip to Peru to be a part of a groundbreaking ministry trip where the soccer team will mix sports while investing in the continued work of the sports ministry in Lima, Peru. The team will get the opportunity to play several games against local pro teams as well as visiting the Amazon and hiking in the Andes.
However, the chief goal of the trip is to work with the church centered ministry and working with children during camps and clinics.
"We'll be in the Amazon basin," said Voss. "We'll be working with a pastor there and we'll assist him in training people to run the camps. Our focus will be in working with the children. We're really excited."
The chance to take part in such a memorable trip so early in her collegiate career already has Birkey excited.
"I think it'll be awesome," she exclaimed regarding the trip. "It'll give me a chance to get to know the girls quickly and blend in with them while getting to know them personally as well as on the soccer field."
According to Voss, the Lancers are a very young team and the mission trip will be a good time for the players to get to know each other.
"This is my second year and we brought in 10 new players last year and we have eight more this year. Having the new group mesh with each other will be awesome," said Voss. "You'll really have to get to know each other because basically we'll be hiking through the jungle," quipped Voss. "We'll be traveling up the Amazon so you'll have to leave your pride behind and basically it'll be a chance to serve your neighbor, serve your friends."
Birkey should also get the chance to get on the field early with Coach Voss' squad that posted a 5-10-1 record last year and 4-3-1 in the MCC, his first with the team.
Four seniors graduated from that squad that featured players from seven different states.
Northview coach Tony Alstott feels that Birkey has many different qualities to offer the Lancers' program.
"Abby has a variety of skills," said Alstott. "She has the long kick, corner kick and direct kick. She has the leg strength to play at the college level. She has a great defensive mind and a good awareness of other players on the field."
Birkey capped her career as one of the all-time leaders in steals with a 105, good for fifth-place all-time for the Knights. She also tied for the top single season mark with 74 in 2005.
The 2007 Knights were the first to have an above .500 mark, winning 11 of the final 13 games of the season for a 12-6 record, falling to Greencastle in the sectional final.
Alstott believes that Birkey's leadership was a key to that team and will serve her well in college.
"She was a two-year captain for us and was a good leader. To be a good leader you have to be able to follow. She has a very teachable spirit and I think in a couple of years she will be a leader for Grace. (At Northview) She kept other girls accountable while trying to get the best out of her teammates."
Voss also commented on Birkey's character and how important a trait that is in Grace College athletics.
"Abby is a very good student and we're really excited about that," said Voss. "We have a very academic team. We recruit solid Christian athletes and having Abby come in with an understanding of what leadership is about and what that takes is very important."
Though Birkey will begin her collegiate career with the mission trip toward the end of July, she still has fond memories of her Northview career.
"I had a lot of fun playing with the girls (at Northview) and I really liked the coaching staff," said Birkey. "I still remember scoring off a corner kick. Something I'd been working on and one time when I scored from the opposite 40. No one could believe it."
Alstott however will remember Birkey for who she was off the field.
"I knew Abby before soccer because I have teenage daughters," said Alstott. "Abby always has had a pleasant personality and does well with adults as well as her peers. She smiles a lot and is polite and just has good moral character."
With traits like those, Birkey will be a credit to both Grace College and the soccer program.