Everything changed for the Panther Creek High School girls soccer team the morning sophomore Laura Yost was involved in a car accident on the way to school.
Yost, who played on the junior varsity team, was riding with her older brother, Ryan, and classmate Spencer Saunders when the vehicle Saunders was driving was struck by a dump truck as it turned across N.C. 55.
While Yost was in the hospital with injuries, the Panther Creek community rallied, and other Wake County schools rallied around Panther Creek.
But a week later, on Sept. 23, Yost died. She was 15.
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This spring, the girls soccer team, which was last season’s state 4A runner-up, is keeping Yost’s memory alive. Each player wears a No. 8 patch on her jersey in honor of Yost’s number last season, her first at Panther Creek. A memorial game was held in her honor March 18.
“She was a big part of our program,” said senior Justine James. “Even though she was on (junior varsity), we’re all a family. It impacted all of us.”
The No. 8 patch on James’ shoulder serves as a constant reminder of who the team is playing for, not just during a memorial game, but at every game, players said.
“It’s not just a one-night thing. It’s the rest of our lives,” James said. “When I go on to college, I’ll still remember Laura.”
Lighting up a room
Teammates remember Yost as someone who made others smile.
“She was very humorous,” said Lindsay Haney, a sophomore who was one of Yost’s best friends. “She was the sweetest, nicest girl ever. She would make everybody laugh, and she would do whatever she needed to do for anybody in bad situations. She was a great friend.”
Yost became like a sister to junior Conner Clarken after Clarken began dating Laura’s brother, Ryan Yost.
“Laura is the most incredible person I have ever met,” Clarken said. “She is the one person who no matter what, I could always look up to, even though she was younger than me.
Yost had the phrase “Life’s better with a puppy and a milkshake” on her Twitter profile, which Clarken says epitomizes her friend’s positive outlook.
“She taught me so much about life in general,” she said. “She was the happiest person, and she lit up the room every time she walked in.”
Meanwhile, grieving Panther Creek students and staff turned to one another to get through Yost’s death.
“I still get really emotional coming on to the field,” Clarken said. “Even talking about it right now, it’s kind of hard. But I’m around her family a lot, and it’s nice seeing them be so positive about the whole situation.”
Clarken said she received support from other teammates and students in the Panther Creek family and from other schools, especially Cary High.
“We all stuck together,” Haney said. “We all held each other up and motivated each other to keep pushing through it. All of our troubles went away when we came together.”
A memorial game
The Panther Creek boys and girls soccer teams and their coach David Grant wanted to do something more to honor Yost’s memory.
A preseason tournament in Yost’s name was scheduled, but snow and ice forced it to be canceled. Instead, on March 18, the Laura Yost Soccer Game was held at Panther Creek against Cary High. Yost’s family was in attendance.
“People who weren’t even in Cary, people who didn’t even know Laura (got involved),” Grant said. “It’s really good to see.”
Panther Creek, which is 9-0-1 and No. 2 in the N.C. Soccer Coaches Association 4A rankings, won the game 5-1 over Cary.
Twenty sponsors backed the event, and $2,985.50 was raised to place a memorial in the same courtyard where students prayed for Yost after the wreck.
Senior Rachael Everhart said the tragedy has changed her perspective on playing sports.
“I think about it, but I think about it in a different sense,” Everhart said.
“I need to cherish every moment that I have on the field and always be working and going 100 percent,” she said. “Some people would give anything to do that again, like Laura. I just need to not take it for granted, because it could be gone any second.”