Carleigh Simmons, a 2015 graduate of Van Alstyne High School, is now in her third year of Division 1 collegiate soccer play at the University of Texas at El Paso. In her high school years, Carleigh — daughter of Kent and Kristin Simmons — played select soccer in the Dallas area while competing as a Lady Panther in volleyball, basketball and track and field.

In her first two seasons of play at UTEP, Carleigh played in every game, starting in over half of the games as a Miner. In her role as a defender, she has helped the Miners record some of their best defensives stats in the history of the program. As a sophomore, her defensive unit tied for the lowest amount of goals allowed by any UTEP team. The team website describes her an athletic defender who plays the game wisely — evidenced in her first year, when she did not receive a yellow card throughout the entirety of the season.

One of Carleigh’s specialty areas in the game is her free kicks. When on the field, she takes the team kicks earned from penalties or corner kicks. In soccer, the set-piece plays are an important part of the game, often creating scoring opportunities. The preciseness of the placement of the ball is crucial to a team’s success. In her first season at UTEP, Carleigh was tied for second in Conference USA for assists.

This season Carleigh has had to struggle with injuries and illness to get on the pitch. She suffered a concussion during the last practice before the season. This led to her missing the first five games of the season, then she missed two more games after discovering she had been battling mono. The coaching staff eased her back into action, and now in conference play she is seeing lengthy minutes of game action.

This past week Carleigh and the Miners passed through the area with a game at the University of North Texas. This gave some of Carleigh’s local fans an opportunity to see her play. Riley and Karla Sprowl were some of the fans who traveled to Denton to watch her play.

Karla said, “Carleigh is a good friend to Riley and our family. Going to watch her play is something we have been planning all year and wouldn’t have missed it. She played great!”

Kristi Servati, who coached Carleigh while at VAHS, was also in attendance at the game. She was very impressed by Carleigh on the field, noting, “Carleigh played a great game. I have coached very few competitors like her. It was good to see her in person in action again.”

“As parents we forget how much they miss our town,” added father Kent Simmons. “We see folks at the post office, fitness center or local grocery. We realize we miss our child, but our lives remain much the same here at home. How precious it is to see Carleigh’s face light-up when she sees familiar faces from Van Alstyne at an ‘away game’ cheering from the sideline bringing back an all-too-familiar sound — the warmth of home.”

Carleigh is a mechanical engineering student at UTEP, which is not a typical major in the athletic department, making her the only one on her team. To handle the time and physical demands of a D1 athlete’s schedule and to handle a top-tier engineering school is quite an accomplishment, but she has managed to become a two-time awardee of the Conference USA Commissioner’s Academic Medalist for her work in the classroom.

“Even under otherwise healthy conditions, an exam week can zap one’s energy from demands of class time, practices and late night study,” said Kent Simmons. “These, and similar, stories can be told for each player on the team. At the end of the week, teamwork is about coming together, understanding the struggles and weaknesses affecting the player next to you and working together to try and overcome them with one common goal.”