After graduating high school, Michael Schlag began coaching club soccer. At the time, he had no idea this hobby would last long enough to send his stepdaughter, Sydney Smith, off to play soccer at Boise State University. Now a sophomore goalkeeper for the Broncos, Smith was reason enough for Schlag to keep his coaching career alive.
“Sydney was the type of player that you knew was special,” Schlag said. “This is going to sound really cliche, but she really did make me want to be a better coach.”
At the age of three, Smith started playing soccer and Schlag immediately noticed her natural-born skill for the game.
“The way she moved and the way she was patient waiting for the ball to pop out of the pack, I knew she had a gift and an eye for the game,” Schlag said.
Since then, Schlag has watched Smith evolve into a three-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week and holds a Boise State record of 11 shutouts in a single season.
Through nineteen games, only eleven goals have been scored against Smith and she has saved 70 shots, making her save percentage 86.4. The most goals she has allowed in a game was two against Fresno State and Eastern Washington.
Despite her stepfather’s willingness to boast her achievements, Smith has yet to settle with her talents as she continues to elevate her game.
“I’m still learning game management things,” Smith said. “So, in the words of when I get the ball, just making it calm and making it a point for our players to breathe.”
This hard-working attitude has impacted those around Smith at Boise State, including the coaching staff and her teammates.
Open to criticism
Success did not come quickly for the young goalkeeper. During Sydney’s freshman year, graduate goalie Tara Fisher had a record season of 10 shutouts and Smith only saw playing time in one game.
This season, however, Sydney has started in every game and proved herself as more than capable of filling Fisher’s shoes. Smith has already passed Fisher’s record with her 11th shutout against Colorado State.
The transition from back-up to starter wasn’t seamless; Smith needed to fine-tune her raw talent.
Head coach Jim Thomas expressed his appreciation for Smith’s growth during spring ball. With the help of Thomas and goalkeeper coach Ed Moore, Smith has developed a better comprehension of field play and learned how to balance innate skill with training.
“She has been as good as anybody else we have ever had at improving and applying technical training into games,” Thomas said. “She’s technically become a completely different player.”
Smith’s careful attention to advice and instruction has lead to her newfound and, thus far, constant reliability in the goalkeeping position.
Staying true to her roots
Smith’s presence at Boise State is a direct result of the Broncos fans in her childhood.
In addition to the advice of her stepfather, Smith was also trained by Maite Zabala, a former assistant coach for the Boise State soccer team. Smith’s gratitude is evident in Zabala’s successful recruitment of Smith to be on Boise State’s team.
“Being exposed to the coaching here was most of the reason why I came here,” Smith said.
Smith grew up in Caldwell, Idaho, approximately 35 minutes away from Boise State. One of her main considerations when making her college decision was its distance from home.
“The aspect of having family close was really important to me,” Smith said.
Smith’s large group of supporters can be seen at each of her games at the Boas Soccer Complex. According to Smith, at least 20 members of crowd are there on her account. The presence of her family and friends motivates her to succeed.
“That’s my favorite part of games,” Smith said.
Leading by example
Although Smith just recently started commanding the back-line, her recent success and growth have already inspired her teammates to perform at a high level.
Senior goalkeeper Lili Finch described the weekly competition between her and Smith. Despite the rivalry, Smith consistently encourages Finch to improve.
“I’m always able to learn from her and the way that she looks at things,” Finch said.
Aside from athletics, Smith has a unique character that Thomas admires greatly. Despite the evident leadership of others on the team, Thomas feels that Smith has an impact on the team through her balance of work with play.
“She doesn’t ever get too high or too low — she’s somewhat unflappable,” Thomas said. “I think having that ability to make everybody laugh at a moment’s notice, not needing to be the center of attention and being our constant calm in the storm is really where she fits for us on and off the pitch.”
Smith’s athleticism is matched only by her character, thus making her an asset to Boise State soccer. Her positive influence on the team will continue and intensify as her career progresses.