When the opportunity presents itself, Auden Schilder's teammates and coach Matt Zigulis don't hesitate to remind him of the player he once was.
Long before Schilder distinguished himself as the top goalkeeper in the Northwest Conference or before he helped lead the Red Raiders to a state title as a freshman, the 6-foot-4 rangy keeper wasn't quite his dominant self. In fact, he wasn't a goalkeeper at all.
Zigulis coached seniors Brad Dale, Conlon Kiffney and Schilder during youth soccer years before the Red Raiders coach took over Bellingham's program. He could have projected Dale and Kiffney's skill, but Schilder's? Not so much.
"We like to joke with Auden and remind him that he was just an average field player," Zigulis said in a phone interview.
Average is no longer an adjective used to describe Schilder. He left that distinction when he decided to become a keeper. He takes the joke in good fun. Plus, not a soul can knock his game now.
"When I was younger, I always played the field," Schilder explained in a phone interview. "I never thought about playing goalie. I got that tall-person syndrome and started getting knee and ankle problems."
The University of Washington-bound keeper, who will redshirt for the Huskies this fall, has been a staple in Bellingham's defense during his four varsity seasons. Although he helped the Red Raiders win a state title three years ago, his performance in 2013 may have been his career best.
He combined with Bellingham starting defensemen Blake Langei, Hunter Hadfield, Lars Botterill and Noah Silverman to post a 0.57 goals against average while compiling 12 shutouts in 21 matches. He also was instrumental in guiding his club to a Northwest Conference title and a Class 2A State Tournament final appearance while providing strong captain leadership along the way. Schilder's been selected The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Boys' Soccer Player of the Year.
What's more impressive than Schilder's stats and play in goal is his quick ability to learn the position without any formal training. Besides occasional work with Lynden coach Drew Smiley, who possesses a goalie background, Schilder's never been exposed to goalkeeper-specific coaching.
Growth at a fast rate is nothing new, though, whether it be Schilder's play, mental make-up or sheer physical prowess. He's always matured quickly.
"He's smart," Zigulis said. "His character also is one of the best I've been around. As a sophomore I looked up to him and valued his opinion. Not many people can say the same. I've seen him in that light for three years. I'm sure it'd be four if I was around his freshman year. His character, attitude and mental strength at times can carry the team."
Zigulis took over the year following Bellingham's state championship in 2009, and it wasn't long before he realized what he had in Schilder. Really, he knew even before his first practice.
"One of the first things (former coach) Jared Fields told me is that you have a D1 keeper, and he's going to be in goal for three more years," Zigulis said, "and he was absolutely correct."
Schilder followed his freshman season with a 0.68 goals allowed average with nine shutouts then recorded 10 shutouts and a 1.04 goals against average last year.
In spite of early success, Schilder found ways to improve every year.
"I haven't had too much goalkeeper training experience, but I got lucky meeting Drew Smiley," Schilder said. "In the offseason and when we weren't playing Lynden, I can count on him for advice. It's been tough in the Northwest Conference. I knew I had to (keep improving) if we were going to get back to state."
Bellingham went 11-0-1 during conference play, but wins didn't come easy this year. Eight of those 12 games were decided by two goals or less. Schilder's play was paramount, given the close matches.
His dramatic saves were most notable, but the confidence he gave, not only to Bellingham's back line but to the whole team, arguably was his top contribution.
"He gave confidence to everybody on the field and to myself as coach," Zigulis said. "He would show up, and he had a job to do and was arguably the most important on the team to keep us grounded and together. He kept us in close games. We didn't run away with the league. We ended up in a lot of close games that could have gone either way, and he was a huge reason why they went in our favor."
Zigulis and Schilder agreed his top moment came during Bellingham's Northwest District semifinal game against Cedarcrest. The Red Raiders won 1-0, and Schilder made play after play to advance his club to the district final.
"They gave everything they had and threw everything at goal they could," Zigulis said. "They couldn't break him down, and it was spectacular to see. To be almost demoralized by a better performance by the goalkeeper, that's what set him apart, and credit them. They were one of the best teams we played all season. He made one-v-one saves, reaction saves in the box and saves on long throw-ins. The whole resume came out in that game."
UW coach Jamie Clark will surely enjoy Schilder's goalkeeping abilities at the college level.
"Pretty much my biggest motivation to go there was because they have such a great staff and resources to help me improve at the rate I'm hoping to," Schilder said. "Hopefully it will skyrocket my skills I might not have learned playing club."
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
ALL-WHATCOM COUNTY BOYS' SOCCER ATHLETES OF THE YEAR
2013: Auden Schilder, Bellingham
2012: Heath Sowers, Ferndale
2011: Matt Sanchez, Bellingham
2010: George Karadimas, Squalicum
2009: Connor Shipman, Squalicum
2008: Alex Couweleers, Meridian
2007: Nick Cashmere, Bellingham
2006: Jake Jorgensen, Meridian
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.