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Batt, Phaneuf build a special bond through soccer

Emory University captains Nikki Batt, left, and Madison Phaneuf have built a tight bond since first meeting each other on the soccer field seven years ago.—Courtesy Photo
Emory University juniors Madison Phaneuf and Nikki Batt know all too well the power of fate. The ever-present force in life, it created their unforeseen friendship and directed their lives in places each never thought it would go.

Soccer players since the time they could run, the two 20-year-old Loudoun residents met while playing on their club team, FC Virginia, seven years ago.

Considering each other just another player on FC Virginia, neither Phaneuf nor Batt fathomed that their friendship would reach as far as it did, especially the 645 miles to Atlanta.

“I didn’t find out about Emory until my junior year of high school," Phaneuf said. "My mom showed me, and it met all my requirements: it was in the south, really strong academically, it’s not intense with soccer but still competitive."

The duo played together on their club team all through high school, occasionally playing against each other at the varsity level when Batt and the Briar Woods Falcons would square off against Phaneuf and the Tuscarora Huskies.

“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses so we would try to use those against each other ... but we would crack jokes and laugh during games because it’s hard to be serious when you know each other so well,” Phaneuf explained while Batt laughed as she recalled the memory.

Their longtime companionship on the field translated to friendship off the field. Both were accepted to Emory University and traveled to their college home together. Since both only knew each other at Emory, being roommates their first year was a given.

This led to an undeniable connection during games, with a new team that would become their family.

“It’s more like we’re siblings now,” Batt said.

"Because we have been together for so long and we know each other so well, we’re almost telepathic on the field," Phaneuf added.

Former captains on their club team, Batt and Phaneuf found that same leadership opportunity available at Emory.

“Being a captain in club was super simple, so having that, we thought in our first year as captains on our college team that it was going to be something similar, but it is so much harder than that,” Batt noted.

The duo quickly realized that leading a college team required a lot more than just making sure everyone came to practice on time. With more freedom in college came more responsibility for the team, as they discovered that being a leader included ensuring their teammates were making good decisions on and off the field.

"That was really hard for us, trying to find a balance, because we want to play the role where we have some sort of authority and make sure the team is doing everything they’re supposed to be doing,” Phaneuf explained. “We just want to show the underclassmen, it doesn’t matter what age you are, you don’t have to be a junior or senior to show leadership on the field.”

To their surprise, the rigor of a strict soccer schedule was not the lone difficulty that college life threw at them. Being part of a NCAA Division III athletic program, they didn’t receive any accommodation from their university for academics, leaving them to learn time management and planning their schedules on their own, a challenge that student-athletes or “scholar-champions,” as Batt’s father, James Batt, likes to call them, at larger schools don’t face.

“It’s a heavy-academic school, it’s all about finding a balance between getting your schoolwork done and doing soccer,” Batt said.

Despite that academic load, and the little time each has to do it during the season, both say it’s all worth it to play soccer at a school they love so much.

"Emory is the best school I could have gone to and without soccer I wouldn’t have ended up there,” Phaneuf said confidently.

Even now as they are home for the summer, the teammates are still honing their skills playing on Loudoun Soccer's U23 team that formed three years ago. This “all-star team” features players who played for Loudoun high schools, but now are from all different colleges.

With their college soccer careers coming to a close in the next two years, the pair say they aren’t exactly ready to give up this important and impactful part of their life.

"It will be so weird when we stop playing soccer and don’t have that competition in our life," Batt said.

"Where will we let all our frustration out then?" joked Phaneuf.


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