COLUMBIA — When Paige Nelson fell to the ground with a powerful cramp in her right leg, it wasn’t a teammate who ran to help.
It was the second half of Monday's girls soccer game between Hickman and Rock Bridge, with the Kewpies fighting to overcome the Bruins' lead. So it was unusual to see Rock Bridge forward Carmen Boessen sprint over to where the Hickman player had collapsed and begin stretching her leg.
“The game stopped. It wasn’t my main focus, Paige was,” Boessen said.
Boessen and Nelson have been close friends for a long time. The pair, along with Rock Bridge defender Lindsey Cunningham, began playing soccer together on the same team in fourth grade.
“I knew one of them would help me,” Nelson said.
They were all students at Columbia Catholic School when they started the Hulks club team.
“Carrera was the club around town, so we formed an independent team,” Cunningham said. “We started playing together and became a force to reckon with, and it became a big rivalry.”
As the three players bonds grew stronger, the Hulks eventually became the Columbia Pride and the group entered junior high. But one practice, Boessen and Cunningham noticed Nelson wasn’t there. She had joined Carrera.
They had all attended Jefferson Junior High, but because of district lines, Boessen and Cunningham would move on to Rock Bridge, while Nelson would go to Hickman.
“It was a really tough decision, but at the same time a ton of Hickman players play on Carrera," said Nelson trying to explain going to the same school as her two best friends but playing for different teams.
"It was odd.”
Cunningham tried to understand.
“It was the right decision for her. We look out there and she’s playing with her team,” she said.
Boessen and Cunningham still play for Columbia Pride and remember that autumn day when they parted ways with Nelson.
“Me and Lindsey were kind of mad at the moment, but we were mad because we were losing her,” Boessen said. “It was a realization that we were going to separate from our friends, but that we have to make it work to keep those friendships."
The Bruins claimed a 5-1 victory over the Kewpies. Last season, the game went into double overtime, and the Bruins won in a penalty kick shoot out.
“This was not the average Rock Bridge-Hickman game,” Boessen said. “It’s usually a nail-biter till the end.”
The Rock Bridge-Hickman rivalry is intense but friendships between opposing players can make the game hard to play.
“I’m going up against Paige and in the moment you know you have to do it for the team, but you don’t want to go against your friend,” Boessen said.
“Growing up together was great, and that year we went our own ways was hard,” Cunningham said. “I wish I was playing with Paige and not going up for balls against her.”
Despite being separated on the field, the three still remain close.
“Honestly, the separation has been a good thing because it teaches us to not take friendships for granted,” Boessen said.