Photo: Andrew McMurtrie. Atlanta Silverbacks goalkeeper Ashley Baker is a Parkview grad on her summer break from UGA, where she is the starting goalkeeper. She also serves as a goalie for England's youth national teams since she also has English citizenship.
Ashley Baker was born in England and still makes regular visits to see family there, but there's no question where her home base is now.
Mom and dad live in Lilburn. So do many of her friends.
That's what makes this summer extra special for the former Parkview standout. After playing the past two seasons with the Tampa Bay Hellenic, her May through June this year will be spent close to home as a member of the Atlanta Silverbacks' W-League women's soccer team.
She commutes to Atlanta for nightly practices with some of her Georgia teammates -- she's entering her junior season with the Bulldogs -- but regularly finds Atlanta Silverbacks Stadium full of familiar faces.
"I think that's cool, whoever's in town loves to come out, friends from high school, family friends and all that," Baker said. "I like that. I like having people at games. At Tampa, I only had my parents there occasionally at games and maybe a few people I met down there. It's a lot different when you have locals around.
"I love it. I'm a big family person and it's 20 minutes from my home to (the stadium). That's amazing to be able to go home and get home-cooked meals. It's a lot better than the college life and me cooking."
Baker's choice of Atlanta worked out well, even if her summer class schedule didn't. A planned internship fell through, so she has more free time on her hands than she expected.
Not that she hasn't been busy.
She trains in the mornings in Athens and then travels to Atlanta for Silverbacks practices. In between she's working a handful of soccer camps. The busy summer keeps her sharp for what is expected to be a strong college season.
The Bulldogs relied heavily on young players in 2010, so their maturity leaves high hopes for this fall.
"I'm super excited about the college season," Baker said. "Last year we had 14 freshmen coming in. That's a lot of youth. With all of them gaining experience and realizing what to expect in SEC play and in the SEC Tournament, I'm expecting a lot of great things. This could be a big one for us."
College soccer takes up the bulk of Baker's time now that her duties with England's Under-23 National Team have slowed up some. The U23 group doesn't have many tournaments scheduled, so she just trains in the country where she was born a few times a year. She also plans a trip around the Christmas holiday to visit her English family.
Her long-term goals still surround playing for the English national team, but her current pursuit is closer to home. Her commitment gave the Silverbacks a huge boost at goalkeeper, helping them to a 7-1 record (she has five shutouts in her seven starts) entering Friday's home matchup with the Fredericksburg Impact.
Baker, who has 34 saves and 0.571 goals-against average, will be able to finish the season with the Silverbacks before her August training with UGA. She hopes to return to college a better player than when she left.
"It's a nice change from college (in the W-League)," Baker said. "You get to play with a lot of different players that have a ton of different experiences. You also get to work with new coaches and just build on your experience and try to get better."