Erica Skroski knew she would have to adjust her game this season.
The Absegami High School senior knew the Braves' girls soccer team had to figure out some things. Absegami lost four impact players after its historic 2010 season, including its leading scorer.
A year ago, Skroski, a midfielder, was primarily responsible for feeding the ball to then-senior Nicole Belfonti, who scored 19 goals. Skroski knew her role would have to change.
"I basically passed the ball to (Belfonti) and she'd finish our opportunities," Skroski said. "I knew I had to step up."
Skroski, who will play NCAA Division I soccer for Rutgers University next year, did just that. She scored 15 goals as the Braves (16-3-1) continued to solidify themselves as one of the area's elite programs. She did so while still anchoring Absegami's midfield and frustrating opponents.
Skroski is The Press Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
"She took on a lot of responsibility. She really began scoring and had the confidence to go to goal instead of setting up other players," Absegami coach Elizabeth Lee said.
There were doubts early on about whether this Absegami team would have the same fire as the one from the previous season. Even Skroski admitted her hopes weren't as high in August.
Her mentality changed after the first few scrimmages. Skroski easily transitioned into a more scoring-heavy role, and other players stepped up to fill the gaps left by graduated players.
"We knew (at the start of the regular season) that we were going to be able to have the same impact as we did last year," Skroski said.
Skroski's main focus was to see the Braves get the respect she felt they deserved.
The Cape-Atlantic League made strides last fall to prove it could produce higher-level teams. She wanted that trend to continue at Absegami.
"I know that other schools know who we are now," she said. "We made an impact on South Jersey soccer."
Absegami dominated the CAL and repeated as American Conference champions. The Braves made runs in the South Jersey Coaches Tournament and South Jersey Group IV tournament.
They did so behind Skroski's leadership.
"She's the consummate team player," Lee said. "She's everything a coach could ever want in one player. She always puts the team before herself."
As the season progressed, Absegami forward Jenna Seddon emerged as a go-to striker, allowing Skroski to do what she does best - work the ball through the midfield and create offensive opportunities.
Skroski clearly stood out as a Division I-caliber player in big-game scenarios this season.
She assisted both goals in a 2-0 first-round Coaches Tournament win against Williamstown. She scored in a Coaches Tournament game against eventual South Jersey Group II champion Haddonfield, which at the time was 15-0 and had allowed two goals all season. She played one of her most technically sound games to date in a South Jersey Group IV quarterfinal win over Toms River East.
Skroski left a lasting impression on Absegami's coaching staff and players.
"She's one of those once-in-a-lifetime-type players, where we're not only going to miss her skill," Lee said. "She's such a good kid, and a great leader."
Team of the Year
Absegami had another stellar season.
The Braves, No. 7 in The Press Elite 11, proved their remarkable 2010 season was not a fluke. They truly put themselves on the region's radar.
Absegami suffered small setbacks. The Braves were eliminated earlier in the South Jersey Coaches Tournament and the South Jersey Group IV playoffs than a year earlier.
But they accomplished some new marks. They became the first CAL girls team ever to host a Coaches Tournament game and earned the top seed in the S.J. Group IV playoffs.
Absegami also won its second straight CAL American Conference title.
The Braves have nine seniors who were sad to see their time together end. However, they can look back on their remarkable two-year run and see the impact they've left on the way the region perceives the school's girls soccer program.
"We know we had an amazing run through Absegami," Skroski said. "Probably one of the best that's ever come through the school."
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