HUNTINGTON — For Sophia Aya-Ay, Marshall University is where dreams are fulfilled.
The Huntington High School junior committed to play soccer for the Thundering Herd, realizing one longtime wish. She also will major in pre-med, with an eye on becoming a pediatrician, another lifelong goal.
Aya-Ay said she talked with Marshall head coach Kevin Long and assistant Erika Duncan last week and accepted their offer to play.
Several other schools showed interest in the speedy Highlander, but her heart was set on the Herd.
"Marshall was the place I wanted to go," Aya-Ay said. "I love the coaches so much. Erika has coached me in travel ball since I was 8. I love it that she'll get to coach me still when I go to college."
Aya-Ay scored a team-high 16 goals last season in earning Class AAA first-team all-state honors. She will be one of several local former high school standouts with Marshall, joining former HHS teammate Tesia Schray, Huntington St. Joe's Abi Hugh, Spring Valley's Canaan Booton, Hurricane's Ann Marie Ramey and Winfield's Mary Lawman.
"I can't wait to play with them," Aya-Ay said. "We have such a chemistry together."
Huntington High coach Tony Shackelford said he is thrilled for Aya-Ay and that the Herd is getting a terrific player and individual.
"Focused," Shackelford said after being asked to describe Aya-Ay. "Killer instinct."
Shackelford then expanded his thoughts on the Highlanders' standout who owns a 4.0 grade point average.
"Sophia plays with a lot of intensity and emotion," Shackelford said. "She has great skill and such a strong work ethic that we all can benefit from by watching what she does. I've been a fan since her freshman year. She's just an all-around good kid."
Aya-Ay features many on-field strengths, none more so than dribbling. She weaves through traffic with ease, handling the ball as if it is magnetized to her feet. That comes from natural talent, but also years of practice.
HHS assistant Tory Shackelford, Tony's daughter, said Aya-Ay is an inspiration on and off the field.
"She has a sense of urgency and she's super-hungry," Tory Shackelford said. "She can find the goal from anywhere on the field."
Aya-Ay is drawn to pediatrics because of her love for kids. She enjoys baby sitting and taking care of her younger sister.
"I love working with kids," Aya-Ay said. My baby sister (Jolie, 8) was in neonatal intensive care for a long time. When I would come home from school when she was little, I would run in, take a shower, change clothes and then take care of her. I had to do it that way because we couldn't get germs on her."
Aya-Ay described her life as "three S."
"Soccer, school and sleep," she said. "That's about it right now."