CENTENARY, Ohio —Isaiah Lester “likes” track and field, but he “loves” the sport of soccer.
However, he wanted to play both at the collegiate level, so the University of Rio Grande granted the Gallia Academy two-sport senior standout his wish.
On Wednesday, inside the Gallia Academy High School Media Center, Lester officially announced his intention to continue playing soccer — while also running track and field for the RedStorm.
Lester was flanked by his parents Doug and Sonya Lester, Gallia Academy High School assistant soccer coach Josh Simmons, and Gallia Academy High School Athletic Director Adam Clark.
Lester will be playing soccer for the highly-successful University of Rio Grande men’s squad —under the direction of head coach Scott Morrissey.
He will compete in track and field for veteran head coach Bob Willey, as soccer is a fall sport at Rio Grande — while track spans both indoor in the winter and outdoor in the spring.
Lester never wavered in wanting to play two sports in college —and nearby Rio Grande was ready to give him his opportunity.
The RedStorm men’s soccer club is coming off an NAIA national runner-up last season — one year after capturing the NAIA national championship.
“I’ve always wanted to play both sports. I’ve always been highly interested in doing both at the same time. I’m good at track and I love soccer,” said Lester. “I always knew that Rio Grande had a really good soccer team. Cedarville had shown interest in me in track, but I wasn’t ready to give up soccer yet. They didn’t seem to be interested soccer-wise, but Rio Grande was, and seemed like the right way to go.”
In Lester’s words, the only way to go was in both sports — as the benefits of both outweighed any conflicts.
“The truth is I love soccer and I like it more than I do track. Just because I have always grown up on soccer. But track has always made me faster and strive to do better, so it helps soccer in itself,” he said. “The only conflict with soccer and track I’ve ever had is club soccer, because it is around the same time as track season. That means I couldn’t do club soccer, and I would have to just work at home by myself.”
But, he wasn’t alone on the Blue Devil pitch.
This past season, Lester scored easily a team-high 34 goals, and made first-team all-Southeast District — after earning Honorable Mention all-district last year (in 2015).
In fact, those 34 markers are a single-season school record for goals —as he became Gallia Academy’s first soccer player in school history to earn all-Ohio honors.
As announced in November by the Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association, Lester landed second-team Division II all-state.
In addition, on the team front, it was an historic season for Gallia Academy.
The Blue Devils did enjoy a school record for victories in a single season with 11, as GAHS posted an overall record of 11-5-1.
Gallia Academy also captured its first conference championship in soccer, sharing the Ohio Valley Conference title with South Point.
The OVC was in its first season of soccer as a league.
Lester is a two-time all-OVC selection, including as a first-teamer in 2016.
In addition, the Blue and White won its only sectional championships in school history his last two years.
“The success we’ve had in soccer the last two years means the world to me,” he said. “I’ve had great teammates and coaches and all of them have helped me get to where I am. It’s been an amazing ride.”
Simmons, who coached Lester for four seasons, said his individual success can be directly related to being a better teammate.
“Isaiah has shown a great deal of improvement over four years. What I really liked seeing how he blossomed was his teamwork. He learned to play as a team member his junior and senior year. That actually rewarded him in being able to score more goals and get more assists,” said Simmons. “I hope he continues to use his teammates like that at the next level. I’m really proud of him and the maturity he has demonstrated over the past couple of years.”
Lester also utilized his speed to amass many of those goals.
“He definitely uses his speed. It was very common for the other team to double-team or put their fastest player on him,” said Simmons. “We were able to figure out how to still use his speed to our advantage.”
Of course, that speed carries over into track, of which Lester excels individually in the 800m run—and a quarter of the 4x800m and 4x400m relay teams.
Lester, as a freshman, qualified for the state track and field meet — as part of the Blue Devils’ 4x800m group.
The past two years, he has reached the Division II state meet in the boys 800m run —placing 15th as a sophomore in two minutes and two seconds and 13th as a junior in 1:58.
His personal best in the two-lap race is a minute and 57 seconds, which he ran as a sophomore.
Lester said he expects to continue the 800 at Rio Grande, while also possibly being part of the 4×800 RedStorm relay.
This year’s Blue Devil 4×800 has already qualified for next week’s regional —as he was competing in the 800m and the 4x400m at the district meet on Saturday.
Lester said he doesn’t anticipate any conflicts or overlapping of the two sports in college, but said “I do know the coaches will work out the practices in case I need to switch between.”
Rather, the two sports intertwine with one another.
“It’s always good to do more than one sport, because it’s working out different parts of your body and it keeps you ready to go for all of them. Track helps soccer just as much as soccer helps track. Both take a lot of endurance, speed and conditioning,” said Lester.
It’s just that Lester “loves” soccer, while he simply “likes” track.
He said he plans to major in Business.
“It’s definitely exciting. I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106