Over the years, friends Malina Pardo, Leesville senior, and Hannah Arostegui, former Leesville student, would sometimes discuss the possibility of attending the same college together, side by side. As elite soccer players, the two had offers from multiple schools to play soccer collegiately.
“We actually joked about going to college [together] once in awhile,” said Arostegui via text. “But I never knew this day would actually come.”
That occasional joke eventually became reality. Both Arostegui and Pardo committed to play soccer and study at the University of North Carolina Wilmington starting next year. Pardo made her verbal commitment to UNCW back in 2017, and Arostegui announced her decision early this September.
But this won’t be the first time Pardo and Arostegui have played soccer together on the same team; the girls competed together from ages nine to 16, for club teams and for Leesville.
Their future journey at UNCW serves as a continuation of a bond that formed nine years ago between two young girls connected by a common passion: soccer.
Formation of a friendship
Pardo and Arostegui first pulled on their cleats and raced out onto the soccer field just after their toddler years—the two both starting playing when they were four years old. Like every other young kid, each simply wanted to explore a first sport and, most importantly, have fun.
And both Pardo and Arostegui definitely enjoyed soccer almost immediately, to say the least. “I really liked it and just kept up with it,” said Pardo.
Years passed as they separately started to climb through the ranks in youth soccer leagues, competing against other teams in their age group. Arostegui even began competing with boys at age five, as she already knew that she wanted to prepare herself for competing at a high level later on.
Flash forward five years, and the two worked together on a competitive indoor team at Next Level Academy. There, on that team, Pardo and Arostegui met for the first time, both having taken similar paths to reach that moment.
The connection between the two formed almost immediately. The Pardo and Arostegui families even lived close to each other, so the moms formed a carpool for practices and games. And from there, that immediate bond between the girls continued to grow.
“From then on, we became best friends,” said Arostegui.
Pardo and Arostegui competed side by side for years to come, with success coming along the way. Together on their indoor youth team, they won multiple indoor youth soccer regional and national titles. And come club soccer, their team won a state title and placed third regionally once.
But their journey competing together didn’t end with youth soccer. They even transitioned into high school together, playing for the same Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) team and competing in the white and navy for the Pride. At Leesville, the girls contributed to Leesville soccer’s tradition of excellence, traveling far in the NCHSAA 4A state playoffs their freshman and sophomore years.
Their connection continued off of the field as well, spending time together outside of soccer. The two would hang out together much of the time at school and other social events.
And even when they didn’t always interact during the school day in high school, soccer continued to serve as the connection between them. “Soccer is always what brought us back together,” said Arostegui.
Wherever the two went, success seemed to follow, truly a defined dynamic duo. “We played really well together,” said Pardo.
Brought back together by UNCW
However, after seven years of continuous practicing and traveling, Pardo’s and Arostegui’s time playing together came to an end. Arostegui stopped competing for Leesville during her junior year, focusing solely on her North Carolina Courage Academy club team.
In addition, Arostegui no longer walks the halls of LRHS—she now attends Crossroads FLEX High School in Cary, a school with flexible class times to allow for students to pursue rigorous outside interests, such as competitive soccer in Arostegui’s case. Pardo and Arostegui no longer see each other each day at soccer practice and even in class.
But the end only lasted temporarily. Now, the girls look forward to reuniting again in the classroom and on the soccer field at UNCW. “I’m looking forward to playing with her again,” said Pardo.
The reunion of the two almost didn’t happen; Arostegui didn’t originally plan to become a Seahawk. She first verbally committed to the University of Pittsburgh back in 2017 but rescinded her commitment after the Panthers soccer team underwent a coaching change.
“I just didn’t believe it was the right fit anymore,” said Arostegui. “I was looking at a few other schools, but I loved everything about UNCW and the team especially.”
Pardo, already a UNCW soccer commit at the time, talked to Arostegui through her recommitment process and UNCW. And Pardo felt no less than thrilled when she learned of Arostegui’s decision.
“She told me that she was interested in going [to UNCW], and we talked about it some,” said Pardo. “Then it was really exciting when she committed there.”
Both Pardo and Arostegui already hope to continue the successes they’ve had together in club and high school soccer to the collegiate stage. They know having each other to lean on along the way will be the best part about it.
“I am definitely looking forward to making a difference at UNCW with my best friend by my side,” said Arostegui.
Sharing a common passion
Pardo and Arostegui have been through the thick and thin together for nine years—grueling practices, tiring traveling, competitive games, hard-earned success. Sharing those experiences over the years has brought them together, creating a friendship that seems meant to last.
Whether it’s fate, tradition, you name it, it seems destined for the two long-time teammates to be attending the same college next year, continuing to share their love for soccer.
“I just can’t wait to be a Seahawk with my best friend,” said Arostegui.