Into the spotlight
MICHIGAN CITY — Whatever the venue, Claire Salyer doesn’t shy from the spotlight when her team needs her most.
Whether it’s on the basketball court, hitting perimeter shots in postseason play, or on the soccer field scoring goals, Salyer’s always been ready to be a key contributor for the Blazers.
After Stacey Barron, Marquette’s all-time leading goal-scorer and last year’s Herald-Argus Girls Soccer Player of the Year, and forward Michaela Jennings graduated, Salyer became the focal point of everything for coach Wil Cogdill and the Blazers attack.
“Last year, with Stacey and Michaela, Claire was more of a role player for us, but complimented them well on the field,” Cogdill said. “This year, it became a little different. We knew we were gonna need her to step up for us. She had the most skills. She had the most experience. She’s a four-year starter for us. She’s always been a real talented, skilled player. A lot of it has to do with her work ethic. She’s always been able to focus on what she needs to do.”
Despite a down year after a 15-win campaign a season ago, Salyer rose to the occasion countless times this season, scoring 22 goals and dishing out six assists to earn The Herald-Argus’ Girls Soccer Player of the Year honors for the 2018 season.
“It was a good experience to have,” Salyer said of her new leadership role. “It helped me learn how to teach some of the younger girls. I wanted to help them learn things and teach them things that they maybe didn’t know and it was something I’m glad I experienced.”
Salyer thrived in her new role as not only one of the team captains again, but as the primary offensive threat for the Blazers, who lacked the depth they’ve had in recent years.
“With Stacey and Michaela last year, we were able to play off each other so well,” Salyer said. “This season, I kinda had to become my own person and become more of a leader like them. It was definitely different. I didn’t have a lot of offensive help at times, but I was comfortable filling that role and do what had to be done, and try to do the best that I could.”
Codgill not only leaned on Salyer to pick up the load offensively for the Blazers, who only scored 20 goals as a team minus Salyer’s total this campaign in 16 games, but he utilized her soccer IQ and eyes on the field to help him and his staff get the best out of a limited roster that lacked depth.
“Us coaches relied on practices and in games all season,” Cogdill said. “We had a lot to work on with a wide range of skill levels here. To the surprise of really no one around us, that coaching philosophy worked out well for us. By having her help out, I think things got better for us as the games went along. Our crosses got better, our set plays became better, we improved as a team and I think having Claire around was a big reason that all happened.”
Salyer mentioned the similarities between playing her previous role in soccer and in basketball for the state-champion Blazers in February. She thinks her soccer season can help prepare her for the grind ahead on the hardwood as the Blazers look to win back-to-back titles before she heads off to college.
Butler, UIndy and Trine are her main college options as of this moment, and the senior is looking to continue her basketball career at one of those schools while studying exercise science and getting a degree in kinesiology.
“I think always trying to have a positive attitude with soccer as a leader despite knowing our chances were slim at games sometimes because of our inexperience and always try to keep high spirits with the girls ... I think I can take that over to basketball,” Salyer said. “I always try to play with 100 percent energy. I never want to do something 50 percent. I always give it my all.”
Codgill has already acknowledged not having Salyer around next season is something he’ll miss, but was more than thankful for being able to coach her in high school as well as recreation league play at a younger age.
“I’m going to miss her all-around personality,” Cogdill said. “It’s not just her understanding of soccer, but her all-around understanding of people and her teammates. She can really individualize on another level with each player. She was available for everybody. She’s a great kid, a smart kid and I never once had any problems with her, despite some frustrating times this season and there were a lot of them. By the end of this season, she was pretty much unstoppable.”