Monday, November 30, 2020

No limit for Skye

Daily Inter Lake | October 13, 2020 12:00 AM


Daily Inter Lake

That little bit of sibling rivalry that formed Skyleigh Thompson’s development as a soccer player no longer happens on the same pitch, but the senior striker still keeps getting better.

When Flathead completes its trip down I-93 to play Missoula Hellgate today in a Class AA playoff game, Thompson will no doubt be the center of attention. She’s the Western AA’s leading scorer for a second straight season – only the 49 points by Bozeman Gallatin’s Olivia Collins surpassed Thompson’s 37 in the AA ranks this fall – despite drawing two or more defenders.

It’s OK; she’s had to up her game for a long time, from the first day she followed Shayenn – her older sister by two years – onto the field.

“I couldn’t tell you the exact date, but growing up it was a lot of following in my sister’s footsteps, being around her and her teammates,” Thompson said. “It lasted up until eighth grade or so. There were a lot of times I found myself playing with older girls, at a more challenging level for sure.”

“We kind of begged the coaches to move her up with Shayenn, to help with the carpooling situation,” remembered their dad, Flathead wrestling coach Jeff Thompson. “And I think it helped – she was forced to play with those older, more mature girls. To be able to compete, she had to get better.”

For two years Shayenn and Skyleigh were high school teammates, including a pair of matches at the 2018 State AA tournament. Then Shayenn headed to the University of Providence, where last fall she was honorable mention all-Frontier Conference.

Meanwhile Skyleigh blossomed: After seven goals as a freshman and five as a sophomore, she found the net 24 times in 2019. Flathead advanced to the playoffs, and lost 5-0 to Helena High.

She’s possibly out of position – center-backs are generally taller than her 5 feet, 4.5 inches – but she’s been so good at possessing the ball that it hasn’t mattered. And she was out of position before, since she spent many years on defense. She guesses she made the move to the center midway through her freshman year.

Her sprinter’s speed – she helped Flathead’s short relay place fourth at state in 2019 – and ball handling help her find the open spaces.

“She was fast before I came here,” said first-year Flathead girls’ coach Bledy Doda. “But I believe we’ve learned more about running with the ball, being fast with the ball.”

“I agree,” Thompson said. “That definitely has to do with maturity as a player – gaining more familiarity with the game. I’ve become a lot more calm with the ball at my feet, rather than frantic. A lot of that is confidence, too.”

Weight training also helped.

“I definitely gained a lot more muscle with lifting,” she said. “It’s a necessity with these contact sports. It makes you a better player for sure.”

Her mom, Shannon Robinson-Dutton, is just pleased to see a growth spurt.

“I was really happy to see her grow a little bit (Thompson was 5-2 last year),” she said. “When you get on a soccer field or a football field and there are players so much bigger than your child, it’s a little scary.”

Jeff and Skyleigh Thompson both imagine a move to the wing at the University of Montana, where she attended many soccer camps – and then had that attention returned after her breakout junior year.

In November of 2019 she made an unofficial visit. Soon, while Eastern Washington was pursuing her, she’d accepted a scholarship to Montana.

“The coaching staff is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” said Thompson, who has played in several showcase tournaments. “The philosophy of it was just up my alley. I fell in love with it instantly.”

Both her dad, who wrestled at the University of Minnesota, and her mom, a track and cross country athlete at Pacific Lutheran, cautioned their daughter on how much work would come with that scholarship.

“When I was in high school, I made it more stressful than I needed it to be,” Jeff Thompson said. “I just wanted her to enjoy the process. But… being a college athlete sounds fantastic when you’re in high school. But you also have to realize it’s also a job at the next level.”

“I think she enjoyed it,” Robinson-Dutton said. “I also feel the moment she went to the UM campus and met those coaches, it was a done deal.”

This season, while Thompson’s 17 goals are a big part of the 1-2 punch with teammate Tessa Smith (six goals), the Bravettes are 7-5-2. They’ve won their share of one-goal games – five out of eight – and split with both Hellgate and league champion Helena during the regular season.

Potential is there for a landmark postseason win and more.

“I think we need to go in together and have our eyes on the prize,” Thompson said. “It’s up in the air… I honestly think it will be a good matchup. We just have to play our best and use our opportunities in front of the goal as much as possible.”

It’s been a winding journey reminiscent of those first forays up the pitch, when Jeff Thompson would overhear, “Who is that little redhead?”

Now everybody knows Skyleigh Thompson.

“It’s funny, sometimes I’ll be on the field and hear, ‘Find Skye!’ ” she said. “It’s kind of weird hearing your name out there.”