QUICKSBURG - It all started in Kathy Gangwer’s kindergarten class at Ashby Lee Elementary School 10 years ago.
That’s where Eli Dellinger and Kylene Franklin became best friends. Once they struck up a friendship it didn’t take long for the pair to soon realize that they also had a common interest -- soccer. They began playing soccer together in the Shenandoah County Soccer League and over the years their bond has gotten stronger and stronger.
“We were in kindergarten class together and I think that’s when we first met,” Dellinger said. “Then after that we were like ‘oh, we’re on the same soccer team.’ Sometimes we were on different soccer teams. That was fun, too. We’ve been together for a long time.”
Their friendship has helped their connection on the soccer field and this year helped the pair of Stonewall Jackson sophomores take the program to new heights -- the Class 1 state finals.
“It’s a tremendous help,” Dellinger said of how their friendship affects their soccer. “It’s like we’re almost the same person. Being best friends, I mean sometimes we get in fights but it’s OK because we resolve it right after. I think it just helps to know where each other are, and it helps a lot.”
“Being best friends we know everything about each other when it comes to athletics,” Franklin said. “So we know what their strong suits are, how they play. Growing up we are able to teach one another and learn off of one another.”
Dellinger and Franklin, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2019 Co-Girls Soccer Players of the Year, combined for 59 goals and 43 assists this season for Stonewall Jackson. Dellinger, the Class 1 State Player of the Year, had a school record 34 assists to go with 19 goals. Franklin led the area with 40 goals, just one shy of the school record, and nine assists.
Much of the success they had individually came from working with each other on the field. Stonewall Jackson coach Ginny Dellinger, who is also Eli’s mother, said that the two bring out the best in each other.
“What we’ve always said about the two of them, and I’ve talked to several people in the school this year about it, is neither one of them would have the same success without the other one,” she said. “That’s the amazing thing. Kylene wouldn’t be able to score if she wasn’t being fed beautiful balls all the time. Eli wouldn’t have these assists if she didn’t have a really solid finisher ahead of her receiving. I feel very fortunate to have them and have what they bring and have it for two more years.”
One of the things that makes the pair stand out is that they can score in a variety of ways, whether it’s on corner kicks, throw-ins or through balls. They both agreed that they can feel the connection they have when they’re playing.
“With Kylene I’m always confident,” Eli Dellinger said. “Whenever I’m out there I know that she’s going to be exactly where I need her to be. We’ve been together for so long I’m like I don’t even have to look any longer. I’m just like ‘oh I know she’s there,’ especially on corner kicks. It’s really helpful. I’m just like ‘I’ll kick it, she’ll be there, she’ll put it in’ -- and it’s perfect. I really love working with her. It’s a lot of fun.”
As strong as their connection on the field is now, they both said that it was there even when they first started playing soccer together 10 years ago. Eli Dellinger said the two have always helped make each other better.
“We were always pushing each other, I remember that,” Eli Dellinger said. “All the time on the field we were like ‘let’s’ go against each other on these one-on-one’s.’ Or if we’re running the mile or something we’re like ‘OK, we’re going to stay with each other and go as fast as we can.’ So we’ve always pushed each other and I think that’s made us the people that we are today.”
Ginny Dellinger said it’s been fun to watch and at times coach the pair for the last 10 years and see the success they each had playing travel soccer carry over into high school.
“I think it is so unique to have two athletes that are the caliber that they are who are so different but complement each other so well,” Ginny Dellinger said. “That is the remarkable thing about them. The fortunate thing is that they’ve been together for all these years. But you have one who has all this power and strength and endurance and vision. And you’ve got this receiver ahead of her who is quick and agile and relentless and accurate. And to have those two be able to come together over all these years and to really have it come to fruition here on this field -- that’s amazing. It’s amazing for me as a coach to have that.”
Both players played at a little bit different position this year than they did last year. The 5-foot-8 Eli Dellinger moved from center-back to center-midfield and it’s a move that paid big dividends for the team.
“I got to work more on my technical skills,” she said. “I did a lot of place kicking. I think I brought my shot down a little bit, too I think I improved, too. In the midfield you get the best of both worlds. You get offense and defense. It just helps a lot to be in there and learn a little bit about everything.”
The 5-foot-3 Franklin played at both forward and midfield this season. Ginny Dellinger said she wanted Franklin to become better at passing and seeing the whole field better and it worked.
“Being in the midfield definitely helped my field vision and being able to see things,” Franklin said. “My field vision developed last year, but being up front it just doesn’t develop as much as it does in the midfield. And being in the midfield just really opened everything to me. Then once I was back up front. I saw things and knew there were things there that I didn’t know before.”
Stonewall Jackson went 19-5 this year and won the Shenandoah District and Region 2B tournament titles. The Generals played some of their best soccer at the end of the season and both Franklin and Eli Dellinger said that their wins over Shenandoah District rivals Wilson Memorial and Stuarts Draft in the district tourney were highlights of the season.
The team became the first in program history to advance to the state tournament and they both said that was something they were proud about.
“It feels so amazing,” Franklin said. “Being able to know that we put something in that record book feels great. Knowing that we were the first girls team to go that far and we pushed ourselves and we deserved it -- we deserved getting that far.”
The two play basketball together as well but each participate in a different sport in the fall. Eli Dellinger runs cross country, while Franklin plays volleyball. Ginny Dellinger said it’s been good for their friendship to have that break from each other.
“I think it’s a good thing overall. Occasionally you get times where they’re too much together,” Ginny Dellinger said. “So it’s actually really great to have the fall. They have a little separation where Kylene’s in volleyball and Eli’s in cross country. They get to go off and have their own successes and miss each other. Then they come back together and they’re really excited to be together again. So that’s a good thing. If they were together in three sports of the year it would probably get to be a little much. But they get that break. And I do think they have a little bit of a rivalry, but it’s not really detrimental. I think it drives them. It’s a good-natured rivalry.”
Even though the pair are only sophomores they have already made a big impact on the Stonewall Jackson record books. Eli Dellinger is on pace to break the career record for assists at the school. Franklin is already second all-time in goals (66) and just needs 32 more to break the school record.
Ginny Dellinger said that the pair are just getting started and will only improve.
“They’re only going to get better,” Ginny Dellinger said. “They’re still getting better -- both of them. I have worked really hard in this past year in trying to get them to each to be good at what the other one does. I’ve been trying to get Kylene to strengthen and lengthen her shot and to see the field better and to pass more. And I’ve been really working on Eli with ball control and finesse with the ball. It’s not all big game, some of it is small game. But as we progress and they get good at what each other does and not at just what they do, they’re just going to be even more formidable as a pair.”