By Ashley Springer, USU Athletic Media Relations
The seven Utah State soccer seniors will agree that the team has been like a family for them.
"It's not a commuter school, so everyone lives here and we're all friends and we see people multiple times on campus during the day," said Bailee Hammond, a forward from Centerville, Utah. "Then the team, of course. We're all best friends, so that makes it really fun to play and hang out with everyone."
The family aspect is what initially drew Wesley Hamblin, a forward from Alpine, Utah, to Utah State. Hamblin's sister, Maris, played for the Aggies and Hamblin wanted to play with her sister.
"I think this would go for a lot of us, it is just the family environment and the traditions and everything that Utah State had to offer," Hamblin said. "That was something we really liked."
That family feel is a huge part of what makes this class the way they are.
"This senior class is just full of a bunch of fantastic young women and soccer players," said head coach Heather Cairns. "It's been a really fun ride with them."
Hamblin said the biggest thing she will miss is the team.
"Just how close we are and just seeing everyone every single day, it's just so much fun," Hamblin said.
Four of the seven graduating seniors are from Utah and midfielder Erin Rickenbach is originally from Logan, which influenced their decision to attend Utah State.
"I grew up in Logan, so it was like coming home," Rickenbach, who now claims Ammon, Idaho as home, said.
The draw to stay close to home was a popular feeling among the seniors.
"For me, I didn't want to go out-of-state, and Utah State was the most appealing to me in our Utah schools," said forward Rachelle Parrish, who is from Orem, Utah.
Midfielder Kacey Erickson agreed.
"It's far enough away from home, but close enough to home at the same time," the Syracuse, Utah native said.
Sara Cobb's mother is from Utah and she has a lot of family here.
"I knew that I just wanted to end up somewhere in Utah. I came to Utah State and loved the atmosphere and the coaches," the goalkeeper from Freehold, N.J., said. "It's been an awesome experience."
Mikayla Howes, a defender from Sherwood, Ore., had a different reason.
"For me, it was the opposite," Howes said. "I wanted to get out of Oregon."
The seniors all said their experience at Utah State has been amazing.
"I wouldn't change a thing out of the five years that I've been here," Cobb said. "I love the community, I love the academic program I've been through, and I love the team that I'm on and the lifelong friendships I've made."
Several of this senior group have dealt with injuries during their Aggie careers and agreed it was difficult, but the team and environment around them helped.
"There's all this frustration and so much anger in it, and then all of a sudden one day you're like, 'I can play soccer'," Howes said. "It just makes it all worth it coming back and working hard."
Hamblin had back surgery last year and said it was frustrating coming back.
"You take like two steps forward and four steps back every time you try and accomplish something," Hamblin said. "But, everyone's on your side and there's a great staff and family. The group behind your back is always trying to get you back."
Erickson said it's been nice having the people and resources the team has.
"Everyone is always helping us out with everything we need," she said.
From Cairns' perspective, the fight back from an injury has helped give these players the strength and leadership they offer.
"There are some players that have played in every game of their career, and there are some players that have fought really hard to get back on the field because of injuries," Cairns said. "Those varied experiences bring a lot of leadership to our team, and they're definitely inspirational for the youngsters to look up to. They're great role models for them and just great mentors for them, and really the true definition of being an Aggie."
A lot of the senior class' favorite memories come from off the field.
"Everyone always sees us playing on the field, but probably the memories that I'll cherish the most are the times that we get together off the field and just hang out and goof around," Cobb said.
Parrish said many of her favorite memories come from traveling.
"We have a lot of little inside jokes or moments that we carry on with us," Parrish said.
The seniors said activities such as sitting around the hot tub, telling jokes and playing games are some of their favorite memories.
"They all have different personalities, they all bring different strengths, they all have different goofiness and they all can have a great time. It's just a really fun group to be around," Cairns said. "They work really hard on the soccer field and have really done some great things for our program."
The seniors said their experiences as student-athletes will continue with them in the future, such as time management, perseverance and responsibility.
"I learned that hard work pays off anywhere," Cobb said. "The connections that you make on and off the field are more important than the accomplishments on the field."
Erickson plans to use the things she has learned as a student-athlete as she goes into her future career.
"We go through a lot and it's going to help us in our future careers to be dependable and hard-working employees," she said.
Hammond says she tries to make the most of the busy lifestyle of a student-athlete.
"You have a lot on your plate, but it's about giving 100 percent to everything that you do have on your plate," she said. "I feel like that kind of stuff goes a long way just in life, too."
The senior class said being Division I athletes has been one of their biggest accomplishments.
"I always wanted to play DI," Hammond said. "Finishing that goal that I've always had is really cool. And it's really cool that all of us got to finish that goal together as a class."
"I'd say my biggest accomplishment is just being able to balance the student-athlete life and get a great education at the same time in the place that I love," she said.
Cobb, Hamblin and Hammond all finished their senior season by earning a spot in the USU career record books. Cobb tied for seventh with 6.5 shutouts and is 10th in goals against average (1.07), saves (80) and minutes played (1,532).
"It's awesome looking back in time and seeing all those years of hard work pay off," Cobb said.
Hamblin said it's exciting to be in the record books. She now holds the career assists record with 20, and is tied for eighth in goals (15) and is sixth in total points with 50.
"Hopefully, I'll be able to hold if for a while and maybe get some more assists in the tournament," Hamblin said.
After scoring eight goals so far this season, Hammond is tied for tenth-place in career goals with 14.
"It's exciting to have your name up there," Hammond said.
All three said they wouldn't have been able to accomplish it without their teammates.
"I wouldn't have been able to do it without my team who scored all the goals – which are way cooler than assists – but it's fun to have," Hamblin said.
Cobb says having her team has been a motivation and drive for her in the net.
"Having us push one another to be the best that we can be to be the best team on the field has definitely helped me to achieve those goals," Cobb said.
Hammond also thought about how their records would affect future teams.
"I think about the future teams and them coming in as freshmen and seeing that or hearing about it, and them wanting to beat it. That will just make this program so much better," Hammond said. "Everyone will be trying to get a little better every year and raise the bar, trying to beat whoever did it last. That's cool to kind of push future programs to get better."
The seniors hope to compete in the Mountain West tournament before the end of their collegiate career.
"We can definitely hold our own in the tournament, if we can make it there, because we've had some downfalls and unlucky things that have happened this year," Hamblin said. "The fact that we still have a chance to get in and it's mostly in our own hands, it's pretty special. Hopefully, we can win on Friday."
Cobb and Hammond are set to graduate in December with a master's in accounting and a degree in psychology, respectively. Erickson, Hamblin, Howes and Parrish are all set to graduate in May with degrees in health education, communications, public health and FCHD, respectively. Rickenbach will graduate in May of 2019 with a degree in physics and math.
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