Madison Schultz is Herald’s soccer player of year

EDMONDS — It was a season that started slowly for Madison Schultz and her teammates on the Edmonds-Woodway girls soccer team.

Six games along, the Warriors were 3-3 and still looking for answers. Likewise the usually high-scoring Schultz was struggling, going scoreless in her first four games while missing two others to attend a U.S. national team camp.

For Edmonds-Woodway, Schultz recalled, it was “a rough start. And I was certainly in a slump. For a while I was just taking up space.”

But about that time things abruptly got better, both for Schultz and for Edmonds-Woodway. The team caught fire, beginning a spree that saw them go undefeated over their last 17 games, winning 16 with one tie, and capping the season with a 2-1 victory over Southridge in the Class 3A state championship game.

In that stretch, Schultz certainly did her part, scoring 32 goals in those 17 games. She scored seven goals in the four-game state playoffs, had four in the one-weekend state semifinals and finals, and knocked in the eventual game-winner in the title game.

For those reasons, Madison Schultz — her teammates know her as Maddy — is The Herald’s 2014 Player of the Year for girls soccer.

On a team of top players, Schultz was simply outstanding. “She just had a great year,” confirmed Edmonds-Woodway coach Bill LeCompte. “She has the ability to be a difference maker in a game, hands down, without a doubt.”

In a season that kept getting better right to the end, both for herself and for her team, Schultz fittingly had her best goal in the final game. With Edmonds-Woodway already leading 1-0 and with about 10 minutes before halftime, she brought the ball down the right flank and then angled toward the center. After eluding one Southridge defender and then another, she launched a left-footed shot from about 25 yards out that slipped just inside the far post.

“It was nicest goal I’ve had in years,” Schultz said. “As I’ve told a lot of people, I’m not hitting that shot twice. I was almost in shock that I put it in. And for that goal to be kind of the game-changer, it was an awesome way to win.”

According to LeCompte, it was a display of something that makes Schultz special. “She just has a knack for being in the right spot on the field, of making an opportunity happen, and then of making the most of that opportunity,” he said.

Her ball skills combined with her speed make Schultz one of the most explosive players in recent Western Conference history. As LeCompte explained, “with many players, their on-the-ball speed is less than their sprint speed. But Madison has the ability to sprint with the ball at her foot and not miss a step, and that’s an overwhelming aspect of what she can do to defenders. They’re not expecting someone to pick up speed with a ball at their feet, but she does.

“She also has the ability to muscle through contact,” he said. “Sometimes you’ll see a tackle being made, but because of her physical strength she’s able to push in and get through with the ball still at her feet.”

As good as Schultz was this season, the Warriors had other weapons, too. Senior forward Rylee Peterson, who will play next season at the University of Nevada, was another prolific scorer. Also, senior goalkeeper Kiera Towell, bound for the University of Pennsylvania next season, had 14 shutouts in the team’s 23 games.

Edmonds-Woodway, which finished second to Shorecrest in the Wesco 3A South, closed its regular season with a 12-3-1 record. The Warriors then claimed the District 1 title by beating Meadowdale (3-0), Ferndale (1-0) and Shorewood (1-0). The state tournament was next, and Edmonds-Woodway defeated Auburn Mountainview (4-0), Seattle Prep (2-1) and Bellevue (3-0) before topping Southridge (2-1) in the title game.

The aftermath of the championship game “is really a blur,” Schultz said. “But nothing is better than winning with your friends and then having your other friends there to cheer you on. You can’t really describe (the feeling), but it’s awesome. It’s really, really awesome.

For every high school team in every season, “winning a state championship is the goal,” she added. “And we achieved that goal.”

Though Schultz will have one final season at Edmonds-Woodway, she already has committed to play at the University of North Carolina, which is the nation’s pre-eminent program for women’s soccer. Since the first NCAA Tournament in 1982, the Tar Heels have qualified all 32 seasons and won 21 national championships.

“I can’t remember a girl from Washington that’s ever gone to North Carolina to play soccer,” LeCompte said. “I think the fact that she’s committed to North Carolina, the most storied program in the country, speaks volumes about what her upside is.”

All in all, the state championship was a thrilling finish to a season that started slowly, both for Schultz and her Edmonds-Woodway teammates.

“When she finally scored her first goal (in the team’s seventh game), she ended up scoring five that night,” LeCompte said. “She just needed to find the rhythm, and that’s indicative of any goal scorer I’ve ever seen. Once they find the rhythm, normally it just happens.

“And once (Schultz and her teammates) clicked,” he said, “it was pretty fun to watch.”

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