If you hear someone barking out defensive instructions during an Arizona soccer game, there’s a good chance it’s Sheaffer Skadsen.
The vocal senior defender is the team’s centerback and represents the Wildcats’ last line of defense. She not only clears potential scoring threats, but she also keeps the rest of the defense in check and has become a model of consistency, as she has played the full 90 minutes in all but one of Arizona’s games this season.
As the leader of a defense that ranks in the top half in nearly every statistical category in the Pac-12 Conference, Skadsen’s play is a major reason for the team’s 12-4-2 overall record this year.
Skadsen has become a star, but not even she thought that her college career would unfold the way it has.
The UA didn’t originally seem to be Skadsen’s first school of choice, but Kaitlyn Lopez, a current teammate and fellow senior, convinced her to at least visit the campus.
“I was not sure I was going to come here,” Skadsen said. “Kaitlyn Lopez actually—I played [Olympic Development Program soccer] with her—was always texting me and calling me, like, ‘You need to come, you need to come.’ ”
The Washington native figured it wouldn’t hurt to give Arizona a shot, and it didn’t take her long to fall in love with the school.
“And so at first, I was like, ‘Why not [visit]?’ ” Skadsen said. “And literally the first day I was on campus and I saw the palm trees and our facilities and everything—I committed that same weekend.”
Skadsen was excited to join Lopez, but the start of her career at Arizona wasn’t quite as bright as she expected.
She played in just nine games as a forward and recorded 167 minutes in her freshman season. She spent most of the time on the bench, which was unfamiliar territory for a player who was the Oregon ODP Player of the Year and the Region Player of the Year in high school.
“I’m used to playing,” Skadsen said. “So not playing and not really feeling like a part of the team—on the field, at least—really made me feel out of place. I [didn’t] know if this [was] the right fit for me or where I [wanted] to be.”
It wasn’t a great year for Skadsen or the program as a whole. Arizona finished 6-11-3 overall and 2-7-2 in the Pac-12. Then-head coach Lisa Oyen was fired after the season.
Not only was she doubting her place in the program after the lack of play in her first season, but she also had to adjust to an entirely new coaching staff just a year after enrolling. Oyen, after all, was the coach that recruited Skadsen.
“It was weird because I didn’t know what [Oyen being fired] meant for me,” Skadsen said. “I didn’t play a lot my freshman year, and so I didn’t know if the new coaches wanted to come in with new kids or if I was going to be with these coaches for three more years.”
The school would hire Tony Amato from Stephen F. Austin to be the team’s next head coach, and he quickly realized he didn’t have any centerbacks.
“When the new coaches came in and we were in a meeting, … they [asked everyone], ‘What position do you play?’ ” Skadsen said.
Skadsen, then a forward, jumped at the opportunity.
“When I was younger, I played centerback for ODP, and so I was like, ‘Oh, I have
before,’ ” Skadsen said. “And I pretty much sealed my own fate with that one. So I’ve been at centerback ever since.”
The extremely vocal then-sophomore turned out to be the ideal fit.
“That’s always why when I was younger, I was put back there, because I am vocal,” Skadsen said. “And so they said this would be a good position for me.”
Arizona has compiled a record of 32-19-8 in the three seasons Skadsen has played centerback.
The team has consistently had one of the better defenses in the conference, and Skadsen was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week in September.
Since 2013, a year after Skadsen’s recruiting class joined the program, Arizona soccer has transformed from one of the worst programs in the conference into one that is currently in the top three in the standings.
“I’m just really proud to have been a part of it,” Skadsen said. “My [recruiting] class is the last class that got a taste of being on the other side of the fence, and so I’m just proud.”
The Wildcats will take to Murphey Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium for senior night Friday against ASU.
“It’s so sad. You never realize that you’re at the end until you actually hit it, and this whole season, I’ve kind of tip-toed around the idea of this being it for me,” Skadsen said. “We build our identities around soccer, and our lives. [Soccer] has run our lives the last 20 years.”
The end is always closer than it appears, so Skadsen had some advice for her teammates that will soon be in her position.
“Play every game like it is your last,” Skadsen said. “Because you don’t realize until you get here that it really is your last game, and you don’t want to look back and regret games that you didn’t give your all.”
Skadsen’s class will have to pass the torch to its younger teammates, and she said she’s convinced the next era of Arizona soccer will take the program to an even higher level.
“I know this team will go further beyond what we’re even going to do this year, and I’m excited to say I was a part of the building process,” Skadsen said. “We really started at the bottom and have scratched and clawed our way up to the top, and I really think that this team will get there.”
But, in the end, it will be Skadsen’s recruiting class that started it all.
“I’ll always be able to look back at Arizona soccer and say, ‘I helped build this,’ and I love that,” Skadsen said.
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