When Crescenta Valley High’s girls’ soccer team found itself 80 minutes from winning the Pacific League title, senior standout Tori Baldridge was there at the center of the field — right where a captain is supposed to be.
But she was dressed in street clothes rather than a uniform, crutches under each arm, a slipper on one foot and a cast on another rather than cleats.
Her playing days at Crescenta Valley ended by an unfortunate injury, her days as a Falcon were nevertheless far from over.
“Just because I couldn’t play, I didn’t want to be there any less for my team,” she says.
The Falcons went on to win the league title that day, besting archrival Arcadia, 4-2, in an inspired performance spurred on by the doubt that they had any chance against the Apaches with the losses of Baldridge and fellow senior captain Brittany Berger. Thereafter, Berger returned, but Baldridge was confined to the sidelines, able to do little more than watch as her team played on. Crescenta Valley marched on to the quarterfinals, its lengthiest run since 2002 and Baldridge was there for it all — every practice and every game.
In his return to Crescenta Valley, Coach Reggie Rivas coached Baldridge for just one season, but it was more than enough time for her to leave a lasting impression — whether it was anchoring a stingy backline, converting a clutch goal or leading her team while limping on the sideline.
“She’s one of the most committed kids I’ve ever coached,” Rivas says. “She loves the team, she loves being a part of the team and she loved playing for her high school.
“She was a true leader. She acted like a captain all the way through.”
Alas, Baldridge’s season might have ended with an injury, but in the 22 games prior, nothing held her back.
For 22 games, she put on display the talent that had earned her a scholarship and All-American recognition. Defensively, she was calm and cool under pressure and as skilled as anyone around. Offensively, she was clutch, showcasing an overall game that made her dangerous anywhere on the field.
It is for the brilliance on both sides of the ball that she displayed for 22 games and the way in which she led her team for 26 games that made Tori Baldridge a unanimous choice as the 2009 All-Area Girls’ Soccer Player of the Year, as voted by the sports editor and writers of the Crescenta Valley Sun, Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader.
With a game for her Real SoCal Soccer Club looming, Baldridge is quick to fess up to having some apprehension, but more than anything, “I’m just excited to play again,” she says.
In the time that Baldridge went without playing soccer, she certainly didn’t go unnoticed.
She was voted the Pacific League Player of the Year and later was voted to the All-CIF Southern Section Division I first team. It all concluded a year that, injury or not, was the highlight of a storied four-year varsity career for Baldridge.
“This season for me was the most exciting,” she says. “Even though it ended poorly for me because of my foot, I’m just really proud of my teammates. I’d say that this was our best season.”
More than likely, those around her were more heartbroken than Baldridge with her season-ending injury. Perhaps it just goes with her calm and cool demeanor, but Baldridge seems to take everything in stride whether it be a forward making a run, a broken foot, what have you.
But more than anything, it seems, it is the intangibles possessed by the University of Kansas-bound Baldridge that have driven her to be the best.
“Her intangibles, by all means, put her above everyone,” Rivas says.
Whether it’s her work ethic, her team-first mentality, her calm nature under pressure or her ability to lead, it was more than just her prowess offensively and defensively that made Baldridge the complete package.
“When she’s back there, you always know she’s gonna be back there,” Dearman says.
And through all the accolades and accomplishments, she remains the same as she was when she began her days as a Falcon in the autumn of 2005.
“I think I’ve tried since I was a freshman to set a good example,” she says. “This year was no different.”
It’s simply who she is.
“She’s never had that cocky attitude, yet she’s such a good player,” Dearman says. “She’s just Tori.”
Unfortunately, Baldridge’s playing days for the Falcons ended prematurely on a February afternoon in Burbank. But it didn’t take away from the remarkable season she had already orchestrated and she certainly didn’t let it take her away from the remarkable run that the Falcons embarked on thereafter. Not to mention, it certainly couldn’t take away the legacy left behind at Crescenta Valley and the bright future awaiting her ...
“Kansas got a good soccer player and a good person,” Rivas says. “This is not the last we’re gonna hear of Tori.”