Sophie Skover, goalkeeper, Princeton (N.J.)
One in an occasional series.
By Al Mattei
In the pool of goalkeepers for the scholastic Class of 1999, there were dead-eye shot-stoppers, nimble second sweeper types, and athletes who can make physically impossible saves.
And then there is Sophie Skover, plain vanilla goalkeeper.
She did not make the ACC or Big Ten coach salivate, but by sheer force of personality, made good defenses even better. She proved herself as one of the best pressure goalies who have come through Central New Jersey in the 1990s, all while helping Princeton (N.J.) High School regain its respectability in field hockey.
Princeton did not have great success in the 1990s, despite its heritage among New Jersey public-school hockey teams. It won New Jersey's first state championship in 1973, when there was only one title contested.
The Little Tigers won its last state title in 1984, with a group of athletes which would also win the state girls' lacrosse championship the following spring. Since then, many potential field hockey superstars who have made their homes in Princeton have chosen to attend any one of the eight private schools (seven of which have field hockey) in Mercer County.
Indeed, a list of Princeton residents who have played private-school field hockey in Mercer County is a who's-who of Central Jersey field hockey in the last decade: Gia Fruscione (Stuart Country Day School/Princeton University), Alison Badgett (Lawrenceville), Lawson McNeil (Lawrenceville), Marcy Long (The Hun School) and Jessica D'Altrui (Princeton Day School/University of Richmond).
Skover is a different kind of heroic figure. She was not as gifted as many of the athletes who have defected to the private schools. She fought the demons most teenagers in the latter half of the American Century faced: stress, lack of confidence, loss of self-esteem.
On one cold day, she was almost unable to strap on the pads, having play with a bad wrist, having to endure biting cold winds and one of the better teams in Central Jersey.
"To tell you the truth, I wasn't ready to play," Skover said after the game. "I really did not want to get out there. But when I made my first diving save, I felt great."
Great enough to knock off not one, but two number-one seeds this season in tournament play in 1998. In the 17th Mercer County Tournament, Princeton beat Hamilton, the tournament's surprise top seed. One month later, Princeton took down neighboring Hightstown, the top seed in the Central Jersey Group III tournament.
"I didn't think we were that psyched for that game," Skover says about the 1-0 win over Hightstown. "We has been going through a scoring drought, but a lot of it was just confidence."
In both games, Skover had some great plays in goal. She stopped shots which seemed destined for the backboard. She withstood hard smashes and relentless sweeps from in front. And, yes, she has gotten some favorable bounces from the hockey gods.
In beating Hightstown, Skover withstood a breakaway from the Rams' top scorer with about three minutes to go, and saw an open shot in the last 30 seconds go wide.
Princeton made the finals of the 1997 and 1998 Mercer County Tournaments, and overachieved in the 1998 state tournament, and much of it was due to how well Skover worked with her defenders. Her outgoing, determined personality made her a second defensive coordinator on the field.
"If they have the attitude that nothing's getting by them, then I have to have the same attitude," Skover said. "I'm not going to hear that clank again."
In her junior and senior seasons, Princeton fullbacks like Chasi Annexy, Kim Kaczmarek and Alyssa Schell have been molded by Skover into a unit which has earned her complete trust, and they were willing to lay their bodies and sticks down for her. Kaczmarek, for example, racked up more defensive saves in 1998 than are recorded in some entire states. Skover has rewarded her defensive line by bailing them out with hard work and the good save.
Her ambition is to make the U.S. senior women's national team someday. If national-team duty is chosen on heart and determination alone, there is no doubt that, near the top of the list, Sophie Skover's name will appear.