By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – Individual honors are great, and few high school athletes have collected as many as Orchard View’s Amanda Skidmore.
She’s been an All-State soccer player for three years in a row, and will probably make it a four-year sweep when the 2014 honor team is announced in a few weeks.
But being on a very good team is even more rewarding.
Skidmore got a taste of team success in her freshman season, when Orchard View advanced to the state soccer semifinals. But the last two years have been disappointing, with frustrating losses at the district level.
Now the Cardinals are clicking again, following Saturday’s dramatic 1-0 victory over Oakridge in the Division 3 district championship game.
The Cardinals will continue their tournament push with a 5 p.m. matchup against Ludington Wednesday in the regional semifinals. The game will be played at Reeths-Puffer High School.
As a recent graduate (she got her diploma Sunday), Skidmore has one more chance to play for a state contender, and she’s determined to make the most of it.
“That’s why this has been so exciting,” said Skidmore, who scored the only goal in the district championship game. “It’s great after skipping two years and then getting another chance my senior year.
“We think we have more in us.”
Skidmore made the varsity as a freshman and experienced as much as any ninth-grader could hope for.
She played on the front line with her sister, Allison Skidmore, and they turned out to be a high-scoring combination. The siblings led their team to the first girls soccer district title in school history, and the Cardinals advanced all the way to the Division 3 state semifinals.
Skidmore totaled 26 goals and 14 assists that year, which won her a spot on the Division 3 first-team All-State squad. Her sister, a senior, was second-team All-State.
“When I first heard about it I didn’t even know what (first-team) was,” Skidmore said. “After that it started meaning something to me, but it also brought a lot more pressure.”
So how does someone so young make such a huge impression right away?
It’s all in Skidmore’s ball-handling ability, according to Wachter.
“Her foot skills are phenomenal, particularly in tight spots,” Wachter said. “She had a really good cutting ability with the ball, causing a lot of defenders to miss. If they swipe at it at all she’s by them. She’s been very consistent.”
Skidmore’s deceptive feet made all the difference when she scored the winning goal in the district title game. She took a great pass from teammate Kaylee Harrell and broke in alone on the Oakridge goal.
The goalkeeper came out to try to cut her off, but Skidmore simply dribbled around her and kicked an easy goal.
“I felt like I was dreaming,” Skidmore said about scoring that goal and winning the district trophy. “It was such a good feeling. We all wanted it so bad.”
FINISHING ON A HIGH NOTE
Skidmore kept producing in her sophomore season, collecting 22 goals and 15 assists and earning another berth on the first-team All-State squad.
She was extremely excited about her junior season. With two years of experience, and a bunch of skilled teammates, Skidmore (and everyone else) expected the team to go a long way.
But the Cardinals sputtered and lost in the district championship game. Skidmore’s production also fell to 16 goals and 11 assists, which dropped her to second team All-State status.
Both Skidmore and Wachter said there were underlying problems hurting the team in 2013.
“When it comes to morale, mentality and drama, we didn’t score well in those categories,” Wachter said. “It made me question myself as a coach. Here I had these awesome players but we weren’t getting much production. I took that hard. I debated whether I should step down because of it.”
“It was almost the exact same team as this year, but something was different,” Skidmore said. “There was some element missing. It was hard to put your finger on.”
Most of the same players returned this spring, but the results have been much different. The Cardinals are 13-4 on the season, and claimed another district title on Saturday.
That victory was huge for the team, since Oakridge had eliminated the Cardinals each of the past two seasons.
“That was my goal this entire year, to win districts, and I kind of knew we would be playing Oakridge again,” Skidmore said. “This year has been different. We knew we could win (districts) if we wanted it. Now I would say we’re pretty close to being where we were my freshman year.
“There is literally no drama this year. We laugh at practice. We talk in the hallway. I think we’re all pretty close.”
Skidmore’s goal scoring has been down a bit again this season (19 goals, 16 assists), but there’s a good reason for that. Several of her teammates have found the scoring touch this spring, taking a load of pressure off Skidmore.
The other two leading scorers on the team are Harrell (17 goals) and Rachel Darwin (16 goals). Harrell scored four goals and Darwin added two in Orchard View’s 6-0 win over Whitehall in the first round of districts.
“I just think some of the lights have clicked on for a lot of girls this year,” Wachter said. “That’s why we’re getting more even distribution in scoring. Amanda has still played a very big role in all of it, as you can tell by her 16 assists. She helps set up a lot of things out there.
“We’ve scored a lot of goals this year. We’ve had a lot of mercies. We were wanting to make a statement.”
The Cardinals won’t be overconfident against Ludington, a Lakes 8 Conference rival. They’ve beaten the Orioles twice this season, but one game was an overtime thriller, and Ludington features All-State scorer Jacquelyn Lynch.
“I know they are going to want it just like us,” Skidmore said. “We can’t let Jacquelyn get away with the ball, because if she does it’s going in.”