At any given point during the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, Washington Spirit goalkeeper, and Cincinnati native, Aubrey Bledsoe could look out from her position and see three teammates in front of her that also hail from her hometown. “You know, I don’t really think about that, but now I think I will more,” Bledsoe told BGN. “It’s pretty cool, especially just to play with Tori because we played together in high school. My high school self would’ve never thought we’d be playing together professionally years later.”
Washington’s four players from the Queen City are Bledsoe, Bayley Feist, Tori Huster, and Rose Lavelle, who were all on the pitch together for 70+ minutes already through three matches in this tournament. Bledsoe, the 2019 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year, and Huster hold down the backend as an experienced goalkeeper-defender tandem for the Spirit while Feist and Lavelle contribute to the club’s midfield and attack.
For Feist, a 2019 draftee by the Spirit, Tori is actually the second Huster from Cincinnati that she’s had the pleasure of playing alongside. “It’s been a lot of fun. I knew Maddie (Tori’s younger sister) before I went to Wake and I actually stayed with her on my official visit,” Bayley said. “Now, meeting Tori and playing with Tori, it’s been really fun. They’re both great people and great players, and I’ve learned a lot from both of them.”
Tori is the eldest of the group and has been playing collegiately and professionally away from Cincinnati since 2008. “I’ve been away, but I’ve always managed to get back at some point in the year, whether that’s for the holidays or through breaks in the season,” she explained. “My favorite thing to do when I’m back is probably visit my grandmothers.”
Huster adds that there always seems to be a festival or event going on and that she’s also enjoyed the new coffee shops in the historic Over-The-Rhine (OTR) district and specifically in Pendleton, where she once lived. “Urbana Cafe is one of my favorite cafes,” she said.
When describing Cincinnati in three words, Bledsoe said, “Home, family, and Midwest.” She used Midwest to describe the ‘good people’. If you’ve ever met someone from the Midwest, you know that in addition to their trademark kindness that they have a ton of pride in their native part of the country.
2019 World Cup Bronze Ball winner Rose Lavelle is no exception. With her well-documented hometown pride, I asked Rose for her pitch to someone to visit the Queen City. “That it’s the best place in the world! It’s such a unique place and it’s kind of a big city, but small-town vibes. Everyone knows everyone and everyone has such a sense of pride being from Cincinnati,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of cool little pockets to explore like OTR or Oakley or Hyde Park. There are so many different fun little areas that you can bop around to. There are a million different things I could say, but I’ll leave it at that.”
Like with NBA superstar LeBron James and his beloved hometown of Akron Ohio, Lavelle loves that her talent and soccer accomplishments are synonymous with Cincy. “I love representing Cincinnati. It’s like my favorite place ever. I love (that) whenever I go play for Spirit or the USWNT, I love that I’m not just representing the club or the country, but also the city I’m from,” the 2019 FIFA World Cup Bronze Ball winner said.
She also plans to give back to Cincinnati because of how big of a part the city has played in her life and how much it’s given her.
Cincinnati has also given Feist a lot already, including three role models on her own team. “I learn from the three of them every day in practice,” the youngest of the Queen City quartet said. “They’re great leaders and more so, they are better people. I’m constantly learning from them and I’m lucky that I’ve got to know them.”
All four players have unique personalities and vary in age. With such an interesting group all hailing from the same city in Ohio, we had to see who would come out on top in three different superlative categories. First up, who is the funniest of the Cincinnati natives? Aubrey picked Rose, while the oldest player picked the youngest and vice versa. “They’re all funny in their own way. They all have their own sense of humor,” Huster explained. “More recently, I’ve gotten to know Bayley and she always makes me laugh. We make eye contact and make weird faces at each other and I enjoy that part of it.”
“I’ll go with Tori because she’s super goofy,” Feist said. Counting herself out of the running for this one, Lavelle said, “Tori’s got a dry sense of humor and she’s one of those people that is funny without trying, so I’m going to go with Tori.”
After judging their comedy styles, next up was the best style in fashion off the pitch. Aubrey, Bayley, and Rose all chose Tori, who Rose said looks cool a lot. Just like in the comedy vote, Tori selected Bayley for the best fashion sense.
While all of them are skilled soccer players, only one could hold the crown as the best singer on the team from a city that also produced talented musical acts like 98 Degrees, Bootsy Collins, and the Isley Brothers. This was a unanimous vote and a pleasant surprise to the selected player. Bledsoe said that Rose is actually a good singer and Feist added that she sings a lot and is kind of decent. After saying that she had no clue who was the best singer, Lavelle said she was “so flattered” that all three of her teammates selected her.
Outside of producing some very talented soccer players with different styles and senses of humor, Cincinnati is also known nationally for the exports of Skyline Chili and Graeter’s Ice Cream. If you want to eat like your favorite Washington Spirit star when you’re in the ‘Nati (or ordering ice cream online), these are their go-to orders at both staples of their home city.
Aubrey Bledsoe: Three-way (spaghetti topped with chili and cheese) and/or a cheese coney (depending on how long she’s in town).
Bayley Feist: Kids’ three-way and a Chilito (chili burrito)
Tori Huster: Three-Way (oyster crackers and tabasco on the side).
Rose Lavelle: Three cheese coneys with everything on it.
Graeter’s Ice Cream
Aubrey Bledsoe: Recently, Chunky Chunky Hippo and Buckeye Blitz
Bayley Feist: Black raspberry chip in a waffle cone.
Tori Huster: Toffee chip
Rose Lavelle: Mocha chip in a cup