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Lydia Elking Memorialized at Girls Soccer Home Opener

Elking began playing for varsity soccer when she was a freshman
Henry Sartain
From left to right: Jack Elking, Lydia Elking’s mother Kerry, Dani Elking and coach Kleekamp stand with Lydia’s framed St. Louis Scott Gallagher and Liberty jerseys.

An immense amount of people from the community gathered at the varsity girls soccer team’s opening home match on the evening of Monday, March 20, to honor the memory of Liberty sophomore Lydia Elking, who tragically passed away last month at the age of 15.

Elking became a starter on the varsity soccer squad in her freshman season playing primarily as a forward, and she was noted for her hard work on the field. She had also been a member of the 2007 St. Louis Scott Gallagher Elite Green since 2018.

Student council members and gate workers stood near the main gate and the pedestrian bridge collecting donations to be given to Elking’s family.

Head coach Heidi Kleekamp spoke on the field shortly before the game commenced.

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“I’m so grateful for all the coaches and the individuals who reached out asking to help,” she stated. “We felt the support early on, which is why I was hoping that when we asked for your help, you would all pull through, and you did; thank you for being here.”

Lydia Elking’s picture along with framed shirts from Liberty and St. Louis Scott Gallagher are displayed in front of the stadium. (Gavin Block)

Those present at the event included Elking’s mother, Kerry, and two of her siblings, Dani and Jack, as well as her teammates and coaches from Liberty and SLSG. As these fellow members of her teams held roses, Elking’s family received framed jerseys of the two programs she played for, and they were announced as Liberty’s honorary captains.

“Lydia was a kid that every coach wants on their team,” Kleekamp remarked. “There were so many times when we would ask her, ‘Have you ever played this position before?’ She would always say with the biggest smile, ‘I’ll give it a try.’ … I personally only knew Lydia for a short time, but if she had one piece of advice for all of you, I feel like it would be to live life to the fullest as she always did.”

The choir group gave an especially solemn performance of the national anthem, inspiring the crowd and adding to the poignant yet optimistic atmosphere of the stadium.

Just before kickoff, eight seconds of silence were held in recognition of Elking, as she wore the #8 shirt for Liberty. For this occasion, the Eagles sported light blue kits, and many spectators also appeared wearing clothes of skylike hues in support.

Early in the competition, senior forward Morgan Struttmann had an auspicious chance on goal. From a distance, it seemed to many attendees that she had capitalized to give Liberty a 1-0 lead, but the ball had actually gone narrowly over the crossbar and rustled in the rear side of the net.

The Francis Howell Vikings managed to score first in the 10th minute, and they later doubled their lead through a well-taken free kick that sailed just out of junior goalkeeper Sydney Strassemeier’s reach.

The first half overall saw the Vikings play with solid defense, a high level of physicality and clinical counterattacking, all of which proved too difficult for the Eagles to overpower.

Morgan Struttmann (#13) keeps possession of the ball and tries to advance the play as Rachel Skyberg (#23) begins make a run. (Henry Sartain)

The second half almost immediately began with more hope for Liberty, as a successful strike from junior attacking midfielder Lola Gianino with 38 minutes still left to play put them back in contention at 2-1. Throughout this latter period, the Eagles dominated possession in the final third and looked as if they had more opportunities offensively. Senior midfielder Rachel Skyberg in particular directed many of these efforts with virtuosic runs and passes.

Despite Liberty’s frequent shots on goal, the Vikings were able to lock in their victory with a goal in the 37th minute. The match concluded as a 3-1 win for Francis Howell.

Although Liberty were defeated in a sharply contested meeting, the event was truly held to celebrate the legacy of Lydia Elking. An exceptional soccer player, she very likely would have become a leader of the varsity group and contributed to the achievement of new heights with her team.

Athletic director Cary Eldredge commented on observing the large number of people who came to the commemorative fixture.

“I think it says a lot about who Lydia was,” expressed Eldredge. “She impacted so many people in a positive way as well as in the soccer community and in our student body. It gave us an opportunity to all get together in one place and enjoy an event, playing the game that she loved.”

The LHS Lydia Elking Memorial Scholarship was recently established to award two seniors that will be selected through an application process. It will be granted this year to Elking’s brothers, Jack and Luke.

A GoFundMe page started by Dani Elking has raised over $140,000 of its $100,000 goal.

This story was originally published on LHStoday on March 27, 2023.