The No. 1 team in the state has only one goal – to win it all. And you can’t win it all until the playoffs start.
Following Skyline’s 2-2 draw earlier in the week with visiting Huron, Skyline Coach Chris Morgan, considered one of the top coaches in the area, summed things up in an honest way for a team with only one goal.
“These (games) are all just practice,” Morgan said.
And that’s true for Skyline, a team loaded with talent, mixed with veterans and youth and centered around a group of strong leaders both on and off the field. The school has had a long history of quality teams but a tough District draw has stood in their way of making long runs in the postseason.
Are the Eagles feeling the pressure that comes with being No. 1 or enjoying the ride?
“I think it’s a little bit of both,” said Jordan Tirico, the senior midfielder who because of his great skill and high energy is tough to miss in the center of the field. “Coming off of last year we ended the season number one but left the playoffs way too early, and I think that’s a reminder for everyone on the team this year that experienced that. We do have that target on us every game but we are getting better.
“We are tying a lot of games this year and it’s something we have to learn from so we don’t make the same mistakes we made last year in the postseason.”
Tirico is one of three captains for the Eagles and he takes that role seriously.
“I see my role more on the field, someone who gives direction to some of the younger players,” he said. “We have been in their shoes before and understand what they are going through and can use that experience to help them especially with keeping composure and playing hard.”
Elijiah Maze is in his fourth year on varsity soccer at Skyline and is another of the team’s captains. Each of the teams he has played on has had a different personality, experience level and skill-set. The senior midfielder likes what he has seen from this year’s team as they continue to prepare for the postseason.
“This year’s team is a lot younger than last year,” said Maze, who didn’t play against Huron because of a minor injury. “Last year’s team was very experienced. Last year’s team also was very talented but so is this one.”
When Maze was a freshman playing varsity the roster featured 15 seniors. This year’s club has nine, including Maze and Tirico. The Eagles also have two freshman and five sophomores. So, in other words, the Eagles are the number one team in the state with almost as many freshman and sophomores as seniors on the roster.
“Last year every single player on the team had experience playing in big games,” Maze said. “We don’t have that this year. Some of these guys have never played in a playoff game before so it will be a new experience for them.”
As good as the teams have been at Skyline over the past four years, they have never made it out of Districts.
“That changes this year,” says Morgan, who has great confidence in his team with one week left before Monday’s District opener against Huron. “Anytime you are playing a team three times it’s very difficult. We open with a team (Huron) we will be playing for the third time so it’s hard.”
The Eagles don’t have to look far to find an example. They beat Saline twice during the regular season last year only to lose in Districts. Out in Dexter, the Dreadnaughts lost to Tecumseh twice in the regular season but knocked them out of Districts.
So instead of just forgetting about Tuesday’s draw with Huron and moving on, Morgan said they need to learn from it – not forget about it.
“We made some uncharacteristic mental mistakes especially on defense,” Tirico said of the tie with the River Rats. “That doesn’t happen very often. And not to make excuses but we missed having Elijiah out there. He helps keep things together out on the field especially on defense.”
Maze is expected to be back next week and certainly for the Oct. 16 game at Skyline against Huron.