This year couldn’t have been much better for Devon Cheeseman.
It almost didn’t happen.
Cheeseman is a senior at Nazareth Academy High School, and she’s loving life as a member of the Pandas. A few years back, she nearly walked away from it.
“Sophomore year, I was torn between transferring and staying,” said Cheeseman, who lives in Mayfair. “Back then I didn’t love it. It was difficult. I’m so happy I stayed. I was thinking about going to Little Flower. Nazareth wasn’t the place for me at the time, but I chose to stay for whatever reason, and I’ve never been happier.
“I love my friends, I love soccer. It was a good decision. I think it was everything, it was during COVID, I didn’t know what I wanted. I was struggling, it was rough for me at that time. My grades weren’t great, I struggled mentally and socially.
“So do I love Nazareth is kind of a trick question. I met the people I’m supposed to be friends with. I had a big decision, I chose to keep going here and it was the best decision I ever made. I love it here, I love the teachers, I love playing sports here, I love everything about it.”
It also worked out pretty well for Nazareth.
This was the first year the Pandas are members of the Catholic League, and since they’ve joined, they’ve appeared in every PCL soccer championship since!
Nazareth won a pair of playoff games in the Catholic League, besting Cardinal O’Hara and Archbishop Ryan for the right to play for the plaque.
The Pandas fell just short of bringing home the championship, falling to Archbishop Wood 2-0 on Saturday at Northeast High School. It wasn’t the perfect ending, but it’s hard to say this season has been anything but a great one for Nazareth. And it’s not over yet.
The Pandas, winners of the District One tournament a season ago, will play for the District 12 championship this week, who, when and where to be determined. A win there will send Nazareth back to the state tournament.
Not bad for a smaller school joining the Catholic League.
“I was definitely nervous coming into the season, but we played the competition out of league, so we knew some of the teams,” Cheeseman said. “But it’s totally different being in the league. In the academy leagues, we were good, but we didn’t know a lot of the teams in the PCL, and we knew the league was very good.
“I don’t know when we knew this was going to be a good year, but I think we always knew we were a good team. We had to put it together. We work really hard, we have the talent, we just had to put the pieces together.”
Cheeseman was a leader all season for the Pandas.
But she truly stepped up when it mattered most. During the playoffs, she scored two of her team’s three goals. That’s one more than she scored during the regular season, when the attacking midfielder was more of a playmaker. She’ll do anything to help the team, but really enjoys setting up others.
“On Nazareth, my job is to be a leader, I’m one of the four captains and people look to me for guidance and I like to be that for my team,” Cheeseman said. “On the field, I like to get my teammates involved, get them scoring. I did score two goals in the playoffs, but I’m happier when the other players are scoring.”
Cheeseman is a huge reason for Nazareth’s success, but she’s quicker to pass credit than she is to set up a teammate for a goal.
On top of her teammates, Cheeseman said her family and coach are a huge part of her story.
“We kept on going, we motivated each other, we worked together and that’s why we did so well,” said Cheeseman, who is a member of Naz-A-Thon, the indoor track team and lacrosse team. “Coach (Dan) Bradley, he was our biggest fan. I played for him for four years, he always cheered me up and he was always there. He’s a great coach. It’s good to still play for him, he’ll work our butts off, but he wants us to win and so do we. He’s helped us all so much.”
So has her family, including her two sisters, Morgan, who graduated from Nazareth in 2022 and played with her on the soccer team, and twin sister Bridget, who is the manager of the team this year.
“(Morgan) is one of my biggest role models, I wanted to play with her, and I got to when I made varsity my freshman year,” Cheeseman said. “I always strived to be just like her.
“And Bridget, I’m so close with her, me and her are two peas in a pod. I look to her first for anything. She plays softball at Naz. It means so much to have her on the team, the last O’Hara game, our first playoff game, we won and as soon as we walked off the field, I gave her the biggest hug. She’s always there. For sure, a win for one of us is a win for both of us.”
And then there are her parents.
“My parents are my No. 1 fans, honestly, they do everything for me,” Cheeseman said. “They drive me to games, they’re the reason I want to play in college. They never say no, and not in a bad way. If I wanted to play in a tournament, they made it work. Since Day 1 they helped us get through everything. And there’s three of us and we all do different things. They always make it work.”
Hopefully her parents and siblings don’t make too many plans, because Cheeseman hopes the Pandas will play a lot more soccer.
“I can not wait, back to work Monday,” said Cheeseman, who wants to play soccer in college and major in environmental science. “We’ll keep working, we have districts and hopefully states and I hope we make it far.
“I think my team is definitely hard working, they’re my best friends, they keep me on my toes and I hope I do the same for them. We love to make games interesting. These captains will be my best friends forever. It’s great to have them. We’re a close team and I hope we keep playing together for as long as we can.”