— By Taylor Kennedy
Former Winfield High School girls soccer player Sydney Cavender spent her first two years of women’s college soccer at East Tennessee State before transferring to the University of Charleston.
Cavender, a Charleston native, transferred from Johnson City, Tennessee back to her hometown amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Cavender appeared in 24 games and started in five games with the Buccaneers.
“With it being during COVID and trying to figure out everything,” Cavender said about the transition. “I had a lot of close friends at ETSU that I miss. They were getting new coaches at ETSU that I liked and working with them. I already had my mindset on coming back home. I was homesick.”
Cavender played with five Tennessee natives her sophomore season at ETSU, quickly creating an everlasting friendship with her former teammates.
“Whenever you play sports in college, you see them every single day and spend all day with them,” Cavender said. “Going from seeing and talking to them every day to not seeing some of them in over a year. We still talk, but it is different.”
Cavender had an easy time connecting with her new Golden Eagles teammates this past season. She had played travel soccer with UC’s Katy O’Reilly and Kate Eddy, both of which played in the Kanawha Valley
“Katy and I have known each other since the sixth grade, and we started playing travel soccer together,” Cavender said. “She is super outgoing with everybody, not just me. We have been best friends for a long time. She is good at making people feel comfortable and introducing me to her friends. Kate went to George Washington. We started playing travel soccer together my junior year. We had talked some but not a ton. We are closer now.”
Cavender’s connections allowed her to fit right in with the Golden Eagles. She was still getting used to everything, but enjoyed the environment being back home.
“It was weird adjusting to a completely different practice schedule,” Cavender said. “It had been different the two years before coming. I liked the atmosphere a lot more. I enjoyed the team, and I was automatically closer to them. I had my friends there, and they introduced me instead of me making my way.”
The Golden Eagles went 5-2-2, including a 3-0-1 record away from home in a condensed season. UC finished second in the Mountain East Conference South Division.
Cavender appeared in every game and chipped in four goals, which was tied for fourth in the MEC. She also earned first-team All-MEC honors.
“I loved it a lot,” Cavender said. “It was exciting being able to play for a school in the same state where I have always lived. It was a good experience.”
UC women’s soccer coach Todd Diuguid recently finished his 20th season with the program. Diuguid led the Golden Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in 2015 and 2016. Jim Kirk and Yvonne Ploeg serve as Diuguid’s assistants.
“They are easy to talk to,” Cavender said. “I loved my coaches at ETSU. They were nice and supportive, but I would be nervous to go talk to them in their offices. I would hold my breath, and I would feel a knot in my throat just being nervous to talk to them. I feel more comfortable talking with my coaches here. You have a better personal relationship. They make it easier to talk and explain things to them.”
Cavender is focusing on improving her soccer arsenal ahead of her senior season.
“My ball touches,” Cavender noted on what she’s working on this offseason. “I am more of a physical player, and I think if I got some moves under my belt I would be harder to deal with. My ball touches and communication. I can communicate, but I am not loud on the field.”
Cavender lettered in soccer, basketball, and track at Winfield High School. She helped lead the Generals to three consecutive titles from 2014-16. She recorded 108 career goals and 39 assists at WHS.