The Colgate Scene
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|The quiet man|
|by John D. Hubbard|
Brendan Skonieczki wasn't where he was supposed to be.
The defense had the senior Red Raider soccer captain marked. Or thought it had but then the ball was in the net and number 20 was trotting back toward midfield.
Typical Skonieczki goal. He's in close, 12 yards or less, appears bottled up but then escapes with a burst, darts to an opening, works the ball with a minimum of flash and kicks it home. His celebration amounts to accepting his teammates' congratulations before lining up to get back to work. No histrionics, no celebration rituals, just the leadership of a quiet man.
Colgate's leading scorer over the last three years is not a flamboyant player.
"You don't notice him," says Coach Mike Doherty of Skonieczki. "He quietly just keeps getting the job done."
It's no surprise to Doherty, who is Brendan's uncle and has watched him develop since his earliest games in youth sports. "He was a great leader and always seemed to make the big play."
Skonieczki was also busy. He played all kinds of sports, and soccer was far from a year-round pursuit, as it is for most Division I hopefuls. He played some football (father Mike played in college and was a high school coach), basketball (mother Kathy's game -- "That's about all they had for women way back then," says Doherty of his sister's choice) and grew up favoring baseball.
When Doherty saw Skonieczki compete in New York's Empire State Games the summer before his senior year, he knew his nephew could make the transition to a higher level.
"I knew Brendan was motivated academically, and that summer he played on a team with a bunch of guys headed to top-ten programs. He was the leading scorer and they won the gold medal."
Skonieczki had decided in his junior year he wanted to pursue soccer in college ("I guess my mom's side of the family influenced me") and Colgate "seemed like the right place to go." He certainly earned his way.
In high school he was all-conference, all-state and all-region while leading Vestal (NY) to league and section championships. As a freshman at Colgate, the forward had the seventh-highest assist total ever among Red Raiders, scored his first collegiate goal against Army and was named to the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll.
"Definitely, the college game is more physical, but also I think the pace of play is a lot faster than high school."
Looking back to that first year, Doherty admits he hesitated starting Brendan "because he was my nephew. It was a little difficult at first but fortunately Brendan's style has never been to take shortcuts. His ability and work ethic have made it easy."
"A lot of times I forget he's Uncle Mike. He's my coach," says Skonieczki, whose play long ago wiped away any hint of nepotism.
Colgate won the Patriot League championship his first year, and while he never did get to start, Skonieczki played in every game, making an immediate impact and setting the stage for future accomplishments.
While he continued to hand out assists and is on track to break the record for the most set-ups in a career, Skonieczki emerged as a goal scorer sophomore year. He had seven in 1998, five last year and by midterm break this season already had X.
"An effective forward is a threat to the other team," he says. "It pretty much comes down to scoring goals." Skonieczki, of course, has other responsibilities. He works to get behind defenses to create chances for himself and teammates and he plays defense. He sometimes is assigned a man to mark and other times covers a space. "There's no time to rest."
With all that, it is those encounters near an opponent's goal that matter most.
"When I have the ball, I try to make the other team worry." There is plenty of reason to fret. Skonieczki is amazingly quick, especially his first step. He plays with a combination of knowledge, instinct and
anticipation that makes him unpredictable and difficult to contain. "I try to exploit the opposition's weaknesses and play to our strengths."
He is also tough, able to absorb the shoulders, elbows and cleats that are part of the often-hidden soccer arsenal.
"The day after a game, I usually wake up sore."
It is hard to tell a hard knock from a nifty assist by Skonieczki's expression.
"You don't notice Brendan," says Doherty by way of explaining how such a gifted player has never been selected for an all-league team. "He just keeps getting the job done. He finishes his opportunities and is having a great year."
Skonieczki is just as quietly effective away from soccer, too. A chemistry major with a 3.9 GPA, he is applying to medical schools. It makes for a full load.
"I find during the season it's easier to manage time. There's no time to waste. I just go from one thing to the next. And if I have something big, I just isolate myself."
There are exceptions, of course -- the touch 3-1 loss to Cornell, for instance.
"I wasn't able to isolate myself after that game. I was in no mood to study that night."
This season has ebbed and flowed with alternating three-game losing and winning streaks. The team is young, and while it is scoring more goals than Doherty anticipated, it is also having trouble keeping the ball out of its own net.
"I wouldn't change a thing. We've had good moments and bad moments," says Brendan Skonieczki, who has accounted for so much of the good. "Through it all, it's been worthwhile."
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