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MCGILL: Journey to Senior Night Special for Women's Soccer Trio

Sydney Arnold, Jordan Parkhurst and Kayla Byrnside.
Oct. 27, 2016

By Chuck McGill

HUNTINGTON, W.Va.Sydney Arnold, Kayla Byrnside and Jordan Parkhurst will be honored Friday night at the Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex. It is the final home game for the trio of Marshall women’s soccer seniors, but the tribute isn’t only about the culmination of the student-athletes’ four-year career here.

This is about their journey to Senior Night.

“I think you’ve got three special kids, but there are some extenuating circumstances with Jordan and Sydney,” Marshall women’s soccer coach Kevin Long said. “They exemplify hard work and it shows how badly they wanted to play soccer and play at Marshall.”

Arnold is a 5-foot-3 forward from Stafford, Virginia, who will conclude her Thundering Herd career as one of the most prolific offensive players in program history. Entering Marshall’s regular season finale Friday night at 7 against Charlotte (9-7-1, 5-3-1 C-USA), Arnold is third in career games (77), tied for fifth in career goals (17), third in career assists (17) and fifth in career points (51).

Byrnside is a 5-5 midfielder from Milford, Ohio, who Long lauds for her leadership. She has two career goals and four assists – “You won’t see her leadership on a stat sheet,” Long said – but Friday will be her 76th career match played, which will put her in a tie for fourth in program history.

Parkhurst is a 5-5 midfielder from Scottsdale, Arizona, who missed her freshmen season and most of her sophomore year because of knee injuries. She scored three goals as a junior and Long said she has been “invaluable” on defense in 2016.

Byrnside, in true leadership form, focused her thoughts on her fellow seniors before the final home game of her college career.

“I have so much respect for what they have done to get here,” she said.

Parkhurst has endured a series of injuries to each of her knees. She persevered to make it to Senior Night, even though Long said “the odds were absolutely against her.”

“My journey has been different than the other seniors,” Parkhurst said. “It was a rough start for me and I kind of pride myself on pushing and working to get through everything I’ve gone through to get to this point.

“I knew I was adept and skilled enough to be on the field, so I put in the hard work to get there.”

Her story begins prior to the 2013 season as she prepared to begin her freshman season at Marshall. She had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee as a high school junior, and now she felt “something wasn’t right” in the same knee. Parkhurst was traveling across the country to start her first year of college when her phone rang with the result of her MRI.

“My mom calls me and tells me my meniscus is torn,” Parkhurst said. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to come in as a freshman and I’m already going to be hurt and I’m not going to be able to play.’"

Then, that night, Parkhurst sat around a bonfire at Byrnside’s house in Ohio. Someone went to pour gasoline on the fire, the gas splattered and Parkhurst’s leg was an unintended target.

“I was literally on fire,” she said.

She had second-degree burns, and she couldn’t undergo surgery on her knee injury until the burn healed.

Parkhurst did what she always does: worked. She rehabilitated her twice-injured knee with her sights set on a sophomore season with the Herd.

She made her debut in a 3-0 loss at No. 3 Virginia, and then prepared for her long-awaited home opener two days later against VCU.

“I was in the game for 10 seconds, went into a tackle and – bam! – there goes the ACL in my left knee,” Parkhurst said.

Parkhurst missed the rest of the 2014 season. In the offseason between her sophomore and junior year her left knee became bothersome. She found out that, like her right knee before her freshman season, her meniscus was torn. Another surgery followed.

“After I was cleared I wasn’t getting the playing time I wanted,” Parkhurst said. “I kept working and by the end of the season I was getting really good minutes and we advanced really far as a team, so that was awesome.”

Her senior season – knock on wood – has been largely devoid of any knee issues. She had orthovisc shots in each knee prior to the season to help alleviate pain.

“Her body was screaming at her telling her that maybe this wasn’t the right sport for her,” Long said. “Even this year in the preseason, we weren’t sure what was going to happen. She was really moving like an older person, barely able to run. It looked like everything ached.”

After missing the first two games of the season, Parkhurst has played in every game since.

“I don’t know how she’s done it,” Byrnside said. “It takes mental toughness to get through it. I respect her so much for going through all that pain and to be able to finish out is incredible.”

Arnold has been a team captain. She has been named to the academic honor roll. She is a forward, a goal scorer, a teammate and a friend.

She is also a mother.

“Sydney’s stats speak for themselves, but it’s not just what she does on the field,” Long said. “You have to add to the fact that she’s a stellar student, a ridiculous athlete and what has to be on her mind every day with what is at home for her and her family – she’s done a fantastic job.

“She’s poised for a great future, no matter what that is.”

Arnold’s 5-year-old daughter, Lydia, lives in Virginia with Arnold’s parents.

“When everything happened I knew I had to go to school and I knew I had to graduate college,” Arnold said. “Playing soccer here makes it easier. She comes to all of my games and she gets it. The whole experience has been fun, and I wouldn’t trade it to have stayed home.”

Lydia will be at Friday night’s game to walk beside Sydney for the pregame festivities.

“What Sydney is doing for Lydia is awesome,” Byrnside said. “She’s a fantastic mother and anything that happens Lydia always comes first. That’s amazing that she can come here, play soccer, have a college life and be a great mother. She amazes me. She is my mom away from home.”

Arnold scored once her freshmen season, three times as a sophomore and recorded nine goals last season as Marshall marched to the Conference USA championship match. She has four goals and six assists for the Herd (5-7-4).

“I’ve made really good friendships and it’s been a really great experience, especially here at Marshall,” Arnold said. “I’ve met a lot of great people.”

Byrnside, meanwhile, has been the Herd’s steady hand and calming voice.

“She’s said the things that aren’t comfortable to say at times,” Long said. “She’s told players to buckle up, she’s told players to see the coach when they’re having problem, she’s done a great job at voicing to the players what they need to hear and also be an outlet for the staff for what the team thinks we need to know.”

Byrnside said she relishes her student-athlete experience here at Marshall.

“Soccer is all I’ve known my whole life,” Byrnside said. “It’s meant a lot to come here and be part of this family and this atmosphere. Here at Marshall, you play for more than this team. You play for the 75. You play for the school. It’s an awesome to be part of it.”

The 2016 group of seniors enter Friday’s game with the highest winning percentage of any senior class in program history. The 2015 graduating class had more overall wins, but a four-year record of 39-29-12 (.643 winning percentage). The 2016 class enters the regular season finale with a 37-25-15 four-year record, which is good for a .664 winning percentage.

“They’ve been a joy to coach,” Long said.