WHEELERSBURG —By her own admission, Brynley Preston’s path of collegiate athletics — at least four years ago —didn’t look to lead down the way of the soccer pitch.
Instead, her best sport — and first love — was softball, as she has excelled as the Pirates’ standout catcher for her junior and senior seasons.
But Preston, after two falls as the Lady Pirates ‘starting and savemaster goalkeeper, has chosen to continue her athletic and academic endeavors at Otterbein University in suburban Columbus — and for the Cardinals’ women’s soccer program.
“I honestly never thought in a million years that I would be playing college soccer. I grew up playing travel softball, so my family and I always thought I would be playing college softball one day. After my senior season, it sure looked like it could be soccer. We started looking into that, and I’m grateful for it, ”she said. “I’m glad I didn’t get to play for just two years. I am really glad to get to play for four more, and not just give up on something I’ve really grown to love. I’m excited for what’s to come. ”
Preston put pen to paper in a recent signing ceremony at Wheelersburg High School, when she made it official to join the Cardinals of the NCAA Division III —and the Ohio Athletic Conference.
She was flanked at her signing by her parents, Justin and Kristin Preston; Wheelersburg High School girls soccer head coach Todd Jarvis; and several Lady Pirates teammates, other family members, and friends.
In her senior season, Preston and the Lady Pirates captured the Southern Ohio Conference championship — and were Division III district runners-up, after their dramatic district title triumph in 2020.
She said Jarvis’ tutelage and leadership was vital to her Wheelersburg career, as now she will play for decorated Otterbein head coach Brandon Koons.
Koons recently finished his 23rd season at the Cardinals’ helm, having led the program to 11 OAC regular-season championships (2002, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2018, 2020-21, 2021), seven OAC Tournament titles (2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2018, 2020-21) and seven appearances in the NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Tournament.
Koons is the winningest coach in OAC women’s soccer history, finishing last fall with a career record of 315-94-36 – and a staggering .770 winning percentage.
He has never had a losing season.
Preston, too, has never come close to a losing campaign — only winning matches and games on the soccer pitch and softball diamond respectively.
She said her decision to attend Otterbein beat out Georgetown College, as she said she visited both “multiple times, but that Otterbein felt more like home.”
Otterbein is also her mother and grandmother’s alma mater, which is located in Westerville – at the top of Columbus.
“I know that sounds cliche, but it’s really true. I can see myself living there, playing there and the coaching staff was amazing. Coach (Brandon) Koons just made me feel so welcome. I can really see a future there, ”said Preston. “And I told Coach Koons I am coming to Otterbein to compete and earn my playing time. I don’t want anything handed to me. Georgetown was great, but it just didn’t feel like that home. I can just really see myself fitting in well with Otterbein. ”
But who knew that as a freshman, when Preston first began playing soccer, that the rectangular pitch – and minding the goal – would be her field for realized athletic dreams.
“I started out playing volleyball all junior high. Then freshman year, I just didn’t know if that was what I wanted to do anymore. I had some friends tell me to try out for soccer. I was like ‘okay, this will give me something to do.’ At first, I was practicing with everybody else, but then Coach (Todd) Jarvis came over to me and said since you’re a softball catcher, let’s try and put you in the goal. It sounded fun to me, ”she said. “That all started with that very first practice, and I just grew to love it. Especially junior year when I actually got to start in goal, the love grew even more. ”
And, Preston’s on-pitch performance spoke for itself —as she combined for 200 career saves (101 as junior and 99 as senior), en route to earning SOC Defensive Co-Player of the Year as a senior.
She was also all-Southeast District in Division III.
Perhaps, or more so probably, her most memorable match was her one and only career shootout bout – against Fairfield in the 2020 Division III district semifinals.
She made 13 saves, including an epic three in the nerve-wracking shootout, as the Lady Pirates put two of their penalty kicks in —with Wheelersburg pitching the shootout shutout after going through two overtimes tied at 2-2.
Not only did that advance the Lady Pirates to the district championship, but it marked their 100th win as a program.
“That shootout was so exciting. I obviously had never been involved in anything like that, but our two seniors Laney (Eller) and Ellie (Kallner), I loved them and just had to play for them, ”reflected Preston.
Preston praised especially Jarvis, who “I owe a lot to”.
“He (Jarvis) has always been there for me, he is the one who has always pushed me the hardest, and he has gotten me to where I am today. Honestly, he’s the best coach I’ve ever had, “she said. “I would go to him for anything. He has really taught me a lot about being a leader, a lot about sports, a lot about life. He named me captain my senior year. ”
Jarvis discussed Preston’s transformation to soccer standout.
“Brynley came in as an inexperienced young lady with not really having any knowledge of the game of soccer. But she followed behind a four-year keeper (Morgan Bivens) for us, learned the skills, and it fell upon her in her junior and senior year to take care of the goal for us. To watch from where she started to where she has ended up, it’s a great story. It really is, ”said the coach. “Brynley came in, accepted what we offered, allowed herself to be coached and encouraged, and we watched her grow and develop. She is very instinctual, does so many things that can’t be taught, and then does the things that can be taught very well. Her upside is still huge. With the proper training and her good work ethic, she really offers Otterbein a bright spot. But if five years ago we would have told her that her future holds playing college soccer, she would have laughed. Softball was her primary love and passion, but she’s really come to love the game of soccer. She is going to be a great overall fit for Otterbein, because they are getting a great all-around young lady and student, not just a great goalkeeper who made many big saves in her career. ”
Speaking of keepers, Preston expects to be part of an Otterbein rotation with three or four netminders — as she is actually still sharpening her soccer skills.
For sometimes, sports — like life —leads you often times down a new-cut path.
Preston said she plans to major in either psychology or graphic design.
Wheelersburg’s Brynley Preston (7) started the past two seasons as the Lady Pirates’ goalkeeper, and collected 200 career saves.
Wheelersburg High School senior Brynley Preston, seated center, announces her intention to play college soccer at Otterbein University. Seated with Preston are father Justin Preston (left) and mother Kristin Preston (right). Standing are Wheelersburg High School girls soccer assistant coach Kevin Powell (left) and Wheelersburg High School girls soccer head coach Todd Jarvis (right).
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected]or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved