With her fourth varsity season mere days away from its commencement, Tori Baldridge has already accomplished more than her share in three previous seasons with the Crescenta Valley High soccer team.
Off to play soccer in the fall for the University of Kansas, the talented senior defender has tallied a surplus of All-Pacific League and All-Area honors, been part of a league champion and CIF victories — she was even recently crowned the homecoming queen.
But by no means is Baldridge resting upon her past accomplishments. Indeed, she’s ready to do whatever’s needed of her to make her last season as a Falcon her best.
"It’s a time for me to keep improving ... If anything, I’m gonna continue to strive to improve and be as good as I can be," she proclaims. "We want to go out with a big bang."
On the heels of a dominating run to a Pacific League title in 2007, last year’s Falcons were expected to once again claim league glory. But they stumbled to a third-place league finish with three losses.
While Crescenta Valley still made the playoffs — falling 4-0 to Thousand Oaks — the season was seen by many as a disappointment considering the expectations and the abundance of Falcons talent.
Baldridge doesn’t shy away from giving her reasoning as to what she thinks went wrong.
"I think as a team we dropped the ball," Baldridge says. "I’d say it was our fault for not reaching the level we’re capable of."
Now, Baldridge and the Falcons enter a season with their third coach in as many years. It’s hardly changed anybody’s goals, however.
"Definitely as a team, our No. 1 goal would be to win league," Baldridge says. "I have faith that if we put in the hard work, we can do it."
Reggie Rivas returns this season to the Crescenta Valley sidelines. Despite coaching for only three years in his previous stint with the Falcons, his tenure is looked back upon with reverence as he guided the 2002 squad to the CIF championship match. CIF success and league triumph speak volumes to Baldridge and Co. For Rivas, in his first season coaching Baldridge, speaking with volume is the opposite of what he first noticed about his talented defender.
"She’s very controlled, very calm, a very confident player," Rivas says.
Baldridge is the picture of a player competing with quickness and speed, but never hurrying. It’s an aspect of her game that might come natural, but one she focuses on nonetheless.
"I think about staying composed so I can have a clear mind," she says. "I try to focus before the game and visualize."
Now, with a senior’s worth of experience on top of the fact that she’s been playing the game since she was 5, her tenure has no doubt aided in her demeanor, but it’s an attribute she’s always possessed in her days on the field with the Falcons.
"She is very relaxed, but in a good way," says junior teammate Oliva Sierra. "It’s always been like that."
Perhaps Baldridge’s calm and cool approach is simply because she’s doing what she loves when playing soccer.
"It means everything to me," she says. "It’s not just something I like, it’s something I look forward to every day. I can’t imagine my life without it."
It’s an outlook that supplies a foundation for just about every avenue of her game, including being a leader.
"I hope that the passion I show rubs off on my teammates, I hope it inspires them," Baldridge says.
If nothing more, it certainly sets a standard.
"She sets good examples for us," Sierra says. "She doesn’t just say it, she does it."
It’s certainly an outlook Rivas hopes catches on.
"She enjoys playing, and that’s half the battle," Rivas says. "One thing that I’ve really preached to the girls is have fun, enjoy yourselves, enjoy high school ... enjoy the time playing with your friends."
Fast as the seasons have passed, it’s clearly something not lost on Baldridge.
"Now I’m a senior and it blows my mind," she says.
But she still has one season left — one season to strive for league supremacy and CIF status and one more season with the Falcons of doing what she does best and enjoys most.