Bishop Eustace’s Nikki Dedes, 14, is one of the most talented freshman players in the state and has had the good fortune of not only meeting Carli Lloyd, but working alongside her, too
Imagine you’re a Little League pitcher with aspirations to pitch in a World Series one day and you don’t only get the opportunity to meet Clayton Kershaw, but you end up working alongside him at some point, too. Or, same scenario, but instead you’re a midget football quarterback or a youth basketball player, and Carson Wentz or Lebron James suddenly enters your own personal stratosphere.
Nikki Dedes can count herself as being in that fortunate, things-you-can-usually-only-dream-about category. The Medford soccer standout, a freshman on an academic scholarship at Bishop Eustace Preparatory School, can consider herself friends with Carli Lloyd.
Dedes first met Lloyd, the Delran native and two-time Olympic Gold medalist and two-time FIFA Player of the Year, when she was a soccer-obsessed, 9-year-old kid. Now she’s one of the most talented freshmen in the state and has had the opportunity to practice with Lloyd in Medford and work at the soccer superstar’s camps.
“I cried the first time I met her,” Dedes said of a Sky Blue game at Rutgers stadium in New Brunswick she attended in 2014, when she just so happened to be sitting next to Lloyd’s family.
“I was so excited,” she continued. “Her cousin called her over and she signed my jersey and skipped all of these people to talk to me. It was so intimidating.”
Flash forward five years later, and Dedes has been able to stand alongside Lloyd and act as a sponge, taking in as much as she can, and she aspires to be a high level player, too.
“Being around her just teaches you so much,” Dedes said, “you see what it takes to be a champion.”
Dedes will now try to collect at least one kind of championship in the coming weeks.
Bishop Eustace’s soccer team went undefeated for the first six-plus weeks of the regular season before losing to Paul VI in the opening round of the South Jersey Coaches Association Tournament. Eustace is one of the favorites to collect a state championship, which would be its first outright title since 2008 (it won four titles in seven years between 2002–08).
A year ago, the Crusaders were co-champions of Non-Public A with Immaculate Heart Academy after an excruciating double overtime tie.
“No co-championship,” Dedes said of her goal in November. “We have to keep working hard, especially coming off the tough loss (to Paul VI). We have to keep working hard and not be complacent. But we’re excited for the playoffs. Every game is a new game, and for some of the seniors, it could be their last game so they don’t want to end the season early. We want to get back to where (Eustace was) last year, and take the championship for ourselves.”
With a deep and experienced team, Eustace surely has a fighting chance. Having a freshman able to play at a high level upon arriving in high school doesn’t hurt, either.
One of two freshman starters along with Megan Morris, Dedes has been playing soccer exclusively for two years now, putting basketball and lacrosse aside and joining the Medford Strikers at age 12. She prepped for the challenge of playing against older, bigger players playing with older members of the Strikers club team last spring as a guest player.
It’s paid off.
“She’s also very tough, physical, not your typical freshman,” Bishop Eustace coach Boo Schubert said. “She can hold her own, even among the best players in the Olympic Conference. To be a freshman and have as many goals and assists as she has, and to play at that level with the other talent we have on the team, it’s amazing. But she’s worked really hard for that. Being able to translate her skills and play with girls three years older than her is something in itself.”
Dedes only turned 14 in September. She’s gone from starry-eyed kid to formidable high school player in the blink of an eye, and still has what could turn out to be a career her idol Lloyd would approve of in front of her in the coming years.