BCHS Girls’ Soccer “Mama, I will Fussball spielen.”
Some years ago, a little girl from Eschborn, Germany pleaded to play what her mother considered a “boys’ sport.” The child was relentless, and her mother finally gave in to the athletic, strong-willed little girl.
That little girl played fussball (which we Americans call soccer) with passion throughout her young life. She later came to America, started a family and is now coaching the athletic, strong-willed girls of the Boulder Creek Lady Jaguars - fast becoming the pride of Anthem.
Natalie Schmidtke’s first season as coach of the Boulder Creek varsity girls soccer team is off to a roaring start. Through the first 16 games of the season, the Lady Jags had a glittering 14-1-1 record. Schmidtke, a 33-year-old mother of three, was the junior varsity girls soccer coach last year, and has unleashed a potential powerhouse as a rookie varsity coach.
“When I had players at the beginning of the season ask me who I had hired, they were excited that Coach Schmidtke was the person chosen,” said Matt Hreha, Boulder Creek’s athletic director. While the brilliant start by the Lady Jaguars (ranked fourth in the state by the website maxpreps.com) has raised eyebrows around northern Phoenix, the athletic director said, “I am not surprised by the success of the team.”
Natalie Schmidtke, born and raised in Germany (Eschborn is outside Franfkurt), came to the U.S. in 1999 and, shortly after, met her man at a California car dealership. Jay Schmidtke was born and raised in Scottsdale; the Schmidtkes settled in Anthem when Jay became general manager of Power Chevrolet.
Natalie played soccer until leg injuries forced her to the sidelines. Now, “I just put all my passion into coaching,” she said.
While Schmidtke hopes her team will make a deep run into the state playoffs, which conclude with a finals’ match February 9, this should be more than a one-season splash. With a dominating junior goalkeeper behind a potent scoring attack led by three sophomores and a freshman, Boulder Creek may be a dynasty in the making.
“We’re a young team, and if everyone comes back healthy we should be a good team for a few years here,” said Schmidtke with typical understatement.
Schmidtke stresses to her young players, “Soccer is more than a sport, it’s a lifestyle.” She also emphasizes that it is a team-oriented strategy. Indeed, the Lady Jaguars play extremely well together, with crisp passing and near-constant calls of encouragement and direction between players.
Though the team concept is strong, there is a clear standout: Kyle (pronounced “ky-lee”) Escobedo, a superstar-in-the-making.
Watching the team gathered on the sidelines, it is easy to overlook Escobedo, slender and nearly tiny, barely above 5 feet tall. But when the ball is in play, all eyes often lock on her, as Escobedo has bursts of speed that brings crowds to their feet.
Such was the case on a cold January night in Glendale, when Escobedo suddenly shot past two Mountain Ridge High defenders and blasted a left-footed shot past the dive of a grimacing goalkeeper.
The score gave Boulder Creek a 1-0 halftime lead. Though her team had dominated the first half, Schmidtke was clearly not pleased. With her voice barely above a normal conversational level, she gave her team a thorough dressing down at the half. “It’s not pretty to watch,” the coach told her huddled players. “Our passes are so sloppy - it’s embarrassing.”
A slim win is simply not good enough anymore for Boulder Creek. With playoff seedings determined by a complex point system, a bigger margin of victory was key, Schmidtke stressed. “If you girls want to set yourselves up to go far in the playoffs, that score up there isn’t good enough,” Schmidtke said, pointing with disgust at the scoreboard.
Pleading with the girls to “settle the ball and play smart,” she concluded: “Go out there and fix it and put a few balls in the back of the net.”
The charged-up Lady Jags answered the command. In the opening minute of the second half, fierce pressure led to a goal by freshman Samantha Markey. A few minutes later, Escobedo sprinted past a defender and powered another left-footed shot into the corner pocket of the net.
“Love you Kyle!” screamed one of the Boulder Creek fans - a group of about 40 that outnumbered the home fans.
Boulder Creek might have had three or four more second-half goals, but Mountain Ridge’s Rebecca Blachut made fine saves against sophomore Shelby Stewart and freshman Madison Rasimas; through the first 16 games, Stewart and Rasimas each had 12 goals, trailing team leader Escobedo’s 17 goals. Sophomore Natalie Stephens was also in double-digits, with 11 goals.
The 3-0 win over Mountain Ridge was the 12th shutout of the season for junior goalkeeper Meghan Strang. Thanks to senior defenders Kaitlyn Lare, Meghan Rettler and Alexandra Elias and sophomore Angela Boyle, Strang was untested for long periods of the match, but made big saves when challenged.
An even bigger win came earlier that week, when Boulder Creek took the short drive from Anthem to Cave Creek to face Cactus Shadows. Their rivals defeated Boulder Creek twice last year, when the Cactus Shadows girls were on the way the state finals. A sign of a power shift in girls soccer came on January 9 of this year, when Stephens and Escobedo buried shots into the net and Strang turned back a dozen Cactus Shadows shots for a 2-0 Boulder Creek win.
The Lady Jaguars were to host Cactus Shadows January 24, the regular-season finale. Next to come: the playoffs.
After the Mountain Ridge win, dynamic scorer Escobedo and powerful defender Strang patiently answered a few questions. While their looks could hardly be more different – Escobedo is a 5-foot-1 brunette, Strang a strong-shouldered, 5-foot-10 blonde – the two have striking similarities. Both are 16 years old, started playing soccer at age 4 and benefited from coaching by their fathers. Escobedo’s dad played soccer and gave her instruction on passing and shooting; though Strang’s father was a football player, he helped her on “punts,” teaching her to boot the ball far away from the goal.
The shooter and the stopper both hope to make national teams and continue to play soccer long beyond high school. Strang will enroll at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and plans to continue soccer in college and then during the minimum five years of active duty she will serve.
As for Escobedo, the blossoming 10th grade star already has accepted a full scholarship offer to the University of Oklahoma.
As they walked toward the warmth of an idling bus, the two were asked what their goals were for the playoffs.
“Make it to the finals,” Escobedo shot out.
Strang didn’t hesitate, either: “I want to win the state!”
That would go a long way toward coach Schmidtke’s long-term plan. “We want to put Boulder Creek girls soccer on the map,” she said with confidence.
She is hoping Anthem will continue to get behind the Lady Jags. “We’ve been experiencing a lot of support from the community which is so nice to see,” said Schmidtke. “People stop me on the street and say, ‘Oh, your team is doing really well this year!’”
As Schmidtke builds the program, there may be many girls around Anthem saying, “Mommy, I want to play soccer!”