SANBORN -- Ashley Beamish has a passion for soccer, one so contagious that her teammates caught the fever.
And it's that attitude the Niagara-Wheatfield girls soccer program will miss most next year, when the 5-foot-6, 17-year-old Beamish takes her passion to the Seton Hall Pirates.
Beamish wasn't the only Falcon who had a hand in helping the girls soccer program escape the cellar of the Niagara Frontier League to become contenders. But her passion for the game and for winning played as big a role as any of her goals in helping N-W become a team to be taken seriously.
The Falcons, four years removed from a winless season, didn't fulfill their dream of winning a Section VI championship this year, but they did post their second straight winning season.
Considering the program went 0-17 her rookie season on varsity in 2004, Beamish and her pals also earned something for the program that's been missing for some time: respect.
N-W finished the season 12-7 overall, and with a winning record in the league (9-5). In posting that mark, the Falcons earned some huge wins over perennial league contenders Grand Island and North Tonawanda, and they even spent some time in first place.
N-W increased its win total in each of Beamish's final three seasons, all of which she spent as the Falcons' captain.
"That had a lot to do with Ashley," fourth-year coach Pete Cerny said. "A lot of the things this program emphasizes came together this year, and I think Ashley's leadership and character had a lot to do with that. She consistently sets a standard of play, work ethic and a high moral standard for the team to follow.
"Her leadership and passion taught her teammates not to accept anything less than the best."
Beamish, who ranks in the top three of her class academically, earned academic and athletic scholarships that will cover the costs of attending Seton Hall. She'll sign her letter of intent in February to attend the Big East Conference school.
That's a sweet deal, considering she had sent letters out to Division I schools offering her services, figuring an offer from a mid-major program that offered the course of study she wanted to pursue as a major -- graphic design -- would be the way to go.
But it turns out her on-field skills -- she's a quick, smart player with great instincts -- caught the eye of the new coaching staff at Seton Hall during an Olympic Development Team tournament she participated in last May in Princeton, N.J.
"I never really heard of them before," said Beamish, who also received interest from Canisius, Stony Brook and Central Connecticut. "Basketball is really big there. When I went on their Web site and saw it was in the Big East, I was really surprised and really excited. I just wrote locally and looking at mostly schools that had my major. I wasn't looking at the major schools."
The college playing opportunity fulfills a goal Beamish set after successfully trying out for the area's Olympic Development Team, which consists of top talented high school-aged sophomores and juniors from Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.
Beamish, an All-Western New York second-team selection last year, scored 23 goals this season.
The Falcons' wins stand out for her more than the goals, especially the league-opening overtime triumph over Grand Island, which began the season having won seven straight Section VI championships. N-W also beat last year's Section VI Class AA runner-up, North Tonawanda, and perennial contender Kenmore West, before losing in the Section VI quarterfinals to Ken West last weekend, 4-1.
But that win over Grand Island provided evidence of just how far the program had come. And it fueled the team's ambition to continue putting in the work toward achieving more success.
"It was awesome," Beamish said. "Everyone was going crazy after the game. We went to school after the game and people who didn't know anything about soccer were congratulating us because they knew how good Grand Island is in soccer. We were working to get the respect from the other teams. Seasons before, people would see [on the schedule] we're playing Wheatfield, it's an easy win. It was a real confidence booster for us [to beat Grand Island]."
Beamish appreciated each and every win she experienced with Niagara-Wheatfield, more than any triumph she had with the fully loaded Olympic Development Team or her stacked Buffalo United premiere travel team, for the simple reason that the Falcons had to work for every win they attained.
"I'm more proud to play on a team that won because we worked harder than on a team filled with all-stars [that wins]," she said. "Our team had a lot of passion when we played."
Much of it came from Beamish.
"I think her loss is disappointing to the [program]," Cerny said. "But she's given a lot of the young players something to follow."