Rutgers back makes impact as team leader
She isn’t the type of player to light up the stat sheet.
In fact, outside of her team-leading 1,264 minutes logged throughout the season and the nine shots she has taken, she hasn’t showed up on the stat sheet at all.
But to Erica Skroski, none of that matters. The junior backer has been an unsung hero for the Rutgers women’s soccer team throughout the 2014 campaign.
Her contributions on the defensive side of the ball have gone silent largely because of the territory that comes with being a defender on the backline and the lack of statistics that come with it. But Skroski’s constant presence on the field has helped anchor one of the best defenses in Division I women’s soccer.
“[Center back] is such a critical position for the success of the team, and I think Erica is one of the best backs, one of the best center backs in the conference,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “I think that her leadership, her technical and tactical ability are at a very, very high level. I think she has the ability to be a pro if she wants to. I think the world of her.”
Growing up in Galloway, New Jersey, Skroski played at a high level of competition from an early age. Her competitive nature and work ethic led her to become a four-year starter at Absegami High School, where she received All-Conference and All-South Jersey accolades before being named The Press of Atlantic City’s Girls Soccer Player of the Year in 2011.
Ranked the No. 8 player in New Jersey according to TopSoccerDrawer.com, Skroski elected to come to Rutgers and immediately pushed for playing time. In her freshman year, she played in all 20 games, starting in 16 of them before starting in every single game for the Scarlet Knights since the beginning of the 2013 season.
Durability has been the key to Skroski’s success on the field during her first three seasons at Rutgers.
A large part of that has been because of Skroski’s drive and commitment to stick with the workout regimen and training conducted by the coaching staff and trainers.
“It’s a lot. I mean, it’s not just playing. You need to make sure you’re focused on your nutrition and how you come into practice every single day,” Skroski said of her health habits. “It’s really a lot, but it’s an awesome role to be able to come in here every day. Everybody pushes me, and I push everyone else.”
Along with the physical skills and preparation Skroski brings to the table for the Knights, her mental approach is something her coaches boasted about.
“She’s mentally strong. She’s just a calming force back there that you need in that position to be able to play both sides of the ball,” O’Neill said.
Associate head coach Meghan Ryan pointed to the mentality Skroski maintains as the strongest aspect of her game.
“I think the biggest thing I like about Erica is that nothing really fazes her,” Ryan said. “I think that with her being at the center back position, she is our vocal leader back there. I put a lot of emphasis on her organizing the midfield and the forwards because she understands the game so well.”
Versatility is a unique aspect that makes Skroski an adept athlete. O’Neill said he has confidence in putting her at forward and midfielder because of her knowledge and top-to-bottom understanding of the game.
The conviction to take command of the team and serve as a leader is something O’Neill and Ryan saw early on when Skroski first arrived at Rutgers. This season, she serves as one of four team captains as a junior.
“[With] her leadership, everyone respects her because she works so hard, and she’s a great leader on and off the field,” Ryan said.
To Skroski, being named a captain in her junior year was a humbling honor.
But while she keeps her teammates in check and leads them through each 90-minute battle, she finds inspiration from the people around her.
“I take a lot of pride in it,” Skroski said. “That’s another reason why I work so hard, because I know a lot of people are looking up to me, but I also look up to everyone else. Just because I’m a captain doesn’t mean they can only look up to me. It’s a whole team thing, and everyone depends on everybody.”
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