MADISON TOWNSHIP — It was like old times again.
And Madison senior Nevaeh Lewis was sporting that same old smile. All is right in Nevaeh's world again.
A high school career that took off like a rocket, crashed back to Earth and is now back on the upswing, Lewis proved just how special of an athlete she was, is and still could be on Monday night when she scored four goals in a 5-2 win over Richland County rival Ontario.
She's back, and she is in a much better place than she ever has been thanks to learning some very tough life lessons, making some major changes in her life and surrounding herself with supportive people.
Lewis began her high school soccer career as a freshman player for the Rams. In her very first game, she scored a hat trick in a 5-0 win over Clear Fork, which ignited a Division II state championship run. She teamed up with four-time All-American Taylor Huff to net the Rams' first girls soccer state title in school history and it was Lewis who scored both goals in a 2-1 title match victory. She remains the only female soccer player in school history to score in a state championship game. Lewis finished her freshman season with 19 goals and three assists.
She followed that up by qualifying for state in three events, the 100 and 200-meter dashes and the 4x200, making the most of her first-ever trip to state in track. It was the perfect ending to a freshman year that seemed like a springboard to one of the best careers in Madison's history.
Then, she got a little distracted. She went through her sophomore soccer season and was still the team's leading scorer with 17 goals and two assists, but spent several games on the bench as suspensions started to pile up for code-of-conduct infractions. Still, she helped the Rams win the Division II district championship and make a run to the regional semifinals before being eliminated by Shawnee, 3-0.
And then, the hammer came down. About midway through her sophomore track season, Lewis had repeat violations of the Madison Student Code of Conduct and received a one-year suspension from all athletic activities. No return trip to the state track meet, no soccer the following fall, no nothing. The thing that she was known for was now all gone and now, her reputation and image were suffering.
It was time to make a change.
"It was disappointing because the people who I thought were my friends were looking down on me," Lewis said. "Everyone makes mistakes, but it is all about the way you bounce back from them and how you change. I completely changed who I was friends with and who I was hanging out with and eliminated all of the bad stuff away from me and did not go near it. I feel like I am in a very good spot right now."
Lewis did her time. She returned to compete in the last few weeks of her junior track season, but never quite got back to her old self and missed out on a state meet berth. So, she went back to work on herself over the summer and came into the 2023 soccer season with a brand new outlook.
"I came in with a stronger mindset and got rid of all of the negative thoughts," Lewis said. "I knew I had to be better than I ever was. Everyone was preying on my downfall, and I didn't want that to be my story. I wanted to come out and show how much I grew and what I was capable of."
And boy, did she. Lewis scored a goal in her first game back, but the Rams fell to Clear Fork 2-1 on a last-second goal off of a corner kick. Yet, Lewis flashed that familiar smile because she was back.
She currently has 15 goals and four assists as the Rams are 7-2-2 on the year and playing some of their best soccer. Four of those goals came in the win over Ontario where she posted some sensational shots, including a rocket early in the first half to get the game started. Later, she added two perfectly-placed shots over the keeper's head and into the side of the net.
She was back.
"It was almost like she never left," Madison coach Jordan Monica said. "The girls were really accepting of her coming back, and she just picked up where she left off doing her job like she never left. Last year, without her, we struggled to put the ball in the back of the net, and now with her back scoring and taking up a lot of attention, it is helping other goal-scorers emerge."
With the lifestyle change also came a position change for Lewis. Normally a striker/forward, she was moved to outside mid after the first game of the year and has flourished. She already has more assists this season than she did in her previous two seasons and needs just one more to match her career total before the season. She is playing a little defense and is controlling the ball more rather than sitting back and waiting for the action to come to her.
"I feel like it is a better position for me because I can do different things with the ball at my feet," Lewis said. "I can distribute when I need to, and I can utilize my speed and beat people on the outside when I have to. It allows others to get in a scoring position. It just lets me play a little bit more."
And she is having fun again.
"I just go to every ball and never stop running," Lewis said. "I am always looking for open spaces to set something up, and I was fortunate to put some in the back of the net."
Monica is seeing it, too. She sees Lewis returning to that fun-loving freshman who scored two goals in a state title game, and the position change is contributing to that.
"She has to work harder because she has to play some defense, too, but she has proven herself," Monica said. "She looks like she is back. It was probably the second game when we moved her there and she was OK with it. She accepted that new role and is thriving."
And that is all she can ask for. Lewis went from the highest point in her life to the lowest in a matter of months and now, she is working her way back to her old self with a new outlook.
It is a comeback story for the ages and has plenty more chapters left to write.
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Madison soccer's Nevaeh Lewis back from suspension, returns to form