KICKING UP HIS HEELS
Casey Schmidt hopes to become a diplomat some day. The Newbury Park High senior already possesses the requisite charm.
On the soccer field, however, Schmidt’s skills have made life uncomfortable for traditional powers of the Marmonte League.
Royal, Thousand Oaks and Westlake, the last teams to win the league championship, all find themselves looking up at Newbury Park, which has never won the title and hasn’t reached the playoffs since 1994. The first-place Panthers (8-4-5, 3-0-3 in league play) host Westlake (8-8-1, 3-2-1) today at 5:30 p.m. in an important league game.
Schmidt, a fast and powerful forward with floppy blond hair, is a primary reason for Newbury Park’s turnaround. Injured for most of the last two seasons, he is finally healthy and playing with a passion that recently earned him a spot in the under-18 U.S. national pool.
Those who know Schmidt say his accomplishments are proof that good things happen to hard workers.
“It couldn’t be happening to a better guy,” said Westlake Coach Bill Propster, who has coached Schmidt on a local club team. “If you’re talking, he’s looking at you and he’s learning while the other kids are cracking jokes. He can take something you say and apply it on the field immediately.”
Schmidt, 6 feet and 170 pounds, possesses superb ball skills that have helped him score nine goals. He shrugs off fouls that would injure other strikers. And his intelligence is not restricted to the soccer field--he carries a 3.72 grade-point average and scored 1100 on the SAT.
That combination of brains and brawn has attracted scholarship offers from seven Division I colleges. But it may not be enough to fulfill Schmidt’s dream of playing for the U.S. national team.
“He’s on the bubble with us,” said Mitch Murray, coach of the U.S. under-18 pool and the men’s team at Santa Clara University. “Speed and power only go so far at the next level, but he definitely made a great first impression as far as attitude.”
Schmidt failed to make the Olympic Development Western regional team last year, but he was spotted by Murray at a November club tournament game in which he had two goals and an assist. Less than a month later, he was one of 24 players training under the eye of national coaches in San Diego.
“To be treated with that kind of luxury and to have everyone in the same dedicated state of mind was amazing,” Schmidt said. “I know now that I can play at that level if I work hard enough.”
Schmidt is similarly determined to keep Newbury Park atop the league standings. The Panthers, once considered a thuggish team, now play a skilled, fast-paced style keyed by several longtime teammates.
Schmidt, Paul Bell, Brian White and Cause Hanna are among the Panthers who once competed on a youth club team coached by Guy Sanford, Newbury Park’s second-year coach.
The familiarity has bred closeness. Last season, when back and leg injuries limited Schmidt to five games, he still attended all of the Panthers’ games and practices, often on crutches.
“Emotionally he was there constantly, lifting people up,” Sanford said. “He wants this team to do well. It means a lot to him.”
Schmidt’s attitude contrasts with those of other elite club players, many of whom deride the high school season for its lesser competition, inferior fields and spotty officiating.
“High school soccer is another chance to play,” Schmidt said. “It’s different because you’re playing for your school. Newbury Park has never had a really decent soccer team and [a league title] is a feather I’d like to have.”