Buckeye’s Norah and Sophie Barnes aren’t the biggest players on the area soccer pitch.
Norah stands 5-foot-2 — and that might be a stretch — while her younger sister Sophie is 5-1.
Their stature hasn’t prevented them from being among the best local players around, however.
Despite a two-year age difference — Norah is a junior and Sophia is a freshman — the sisters have an instinct typically found with twins, as opposed to siblings in different stages of their respective careers.
“It’s been so much fun,” Norah said. “Every time I look up, I just know where she’s running and she knows where to go. I don’t know what it is, but she can just tell when I make a move.”
That’s not new. The two have been dominating soccer fields together from their early elementary school days, when Sophie played up a level in order to be on her sister’s team in the Buckeye Travel League.
Since then, the two have taken separate paths in club soccer, playing for their respective age groups with the North Olmsted-based Excalibur Soccer Club.
Now, they’re one of the top combinations in not just the Patriot Athletic Conference, but area-wide. To be exact, a Barnes sister has scored in every game except one this season.
“I love playing with her,” Sophie said. “She’s my big motivator. I can always go to her with all my problems and we work well together.”
From lighthearted moments on the field to the intense in-game situations they go through together, it’s a partnership that has been extremely enjoyable.
“She’s probably my best friend,” the more outgoing Norah said. “I love making fun of her and putting her in awkward situations.”
After a breakout sophomore season, the PAC is well aware of what Norah can do. Even in a new formation this fall with a team that starts four freshmen, and even though she sometimes has two or three defenders thrown at her, the 16-year-old still has found a way.
But almost bigger than the seven goals and team-high six assists she has is her ability to show younger teammates the right way to play.
“I can see her leadership game-by-game,” Bucks coach Bud Roberts said. “She’s a good one to lead by example and a good one for a younger kid to use as a role model.”
As the team’s center midfielder, Norah dictates much of the action, but that leadership was earned in the summer, when she and fellow co-captains Heather Thomas and Shannon Peicu organized offseason practices.
“We wanted the conditioning to be more intense,” said Norah, who had 12 goals and two assists last season. “Until mid-July, we would meet every day and do straight conditioning. … We wanted to be in shape, because we have PAC goals and we have ones beyond that as well.”
Norah knows a thing or two about conditioning, as she is one of a handful of Buckeye players that rarely leaves the field. It’s paid off, as the Bucks are 7-1-1 and right in the thick of the league title chase again this season.
She has scored four goals in the last two games, which includes a hat trick past Saturday against Keystone.
“Everything revolves around her play,” Roberts said. “Most teams will double- and triple- team here, but she’s physical enough to handle it and is very skilled. I rarely take her out, because she’s so fit.”
Tough as nails
Even before Sophie put on a Buckeye jersey and ran onto the field at the Thiele-Pierce Track and Soccer Complex, Roberts knew what kind of player he was getting.
But he was caught off guard at the grittiness of the smaller forward. Her never-back-down attitude is one of the reasons for the Bucks’ early success. Despite taking a variety of hits up top, Sophie has managed to net a team-high nine goals and dish out four assists.
“We knew the ability she had, but honestly I didn’t realize how aggressive she was, especially defensively,” Roberts said. “She’s not real big, but she goes at everything 100 percent. She does take a physical beating, but she manages to bounce back.”
Sophie and Norah learned the game from their mother Shannon, whose maiden name is Frazier. Shannon spent the first two years of her prep career on Medina’s boys team before the school started its girls program in 1985.
Playing against older girls while on the same travel team a Norah also helped.
“I knew I had to be tougher around those girls,” Sophie said. “It would help when I went down to my age group. The older girls would tell me what to do and that helped me be a leader.”
The 14-year-old has not only played forward, but lately has seen major minutes at outside midfield or even at center, when her sister takes a rare break. She also spent time during the club season at defender, giving her a skill set that is hard to match.
But she never planned on her rookie campaign getting off to such a fast start.
“I just love how the team is working together,” Sophie said. “I’m lucky to be surrounded by girls that all play together.”
Contact Dan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.