Fort Bragg's Skyler Saunders concludes her two-sport high school career

Saunders shined in both soccer and basketball, but plans to pursue only one in college.|

Trailing by 15 at the half, a furious comeback is in the works.

The Fort Bragg high school girls basketball team called a timeout after cutting the deficit to two. In the huddle, coach Brad Gardner stymied the tension and stress in order to set up the game-winning volley. It was time for the school’s athletic phenom, Skyler Saunders, to take over.

“Fifteen seconds left, (Gardner) pulled me aside after the huddle and said, ‘Skyler, if there was ever a moment for you, it’s right now. I need you to hit this shot,’” Saunders recalled. “We broke the huddle and one of my teammates set me one of the best screens ever and I shot it. I didn’t even really look, but it went in and I never felt anything like that before.”

The Timberwolves won that game, which clinched the school’s first postseason appearance for girls basketball in a decade. The winning shot by Saunders was a highlight of her senior season.

Saunders’ high school career included three campaigns of varsity ball, the latter two as a team captain. Her basketball tenure coincided with four years playing varsity soccer (also spending two years as a captain.)

“It’s funny because soccer remains my passion and my favorite. Even as a baby, before I could walk my dad, was holding me up while I kicked a soccer ball around,” she said. “There’s so much more glory in soccer; scoring a goal is amazing and you feel so powerful.”

Fort Bragg could not sustain a junior varsity team for soccer, forcing Saunders to try out and make the varsity team. Unlike the basketball team, which enjoyed little success, the girls soccer team made the playoffs each year, with its deepest run reaching the third round.

“I owe a lot to the captains before me and my great teammates,” Saunders said. “I idolized my captains on the soccer team. You have to be there for younger girls, to construct them and to be positive.”

But the tenacity and competitiveness of basketball creates a different style of leadership.

“You have to persuade them to be on their toes and to not be affected by the little things that can take you out of your rhythm,” she said.

Saunders is now looking toward the future while scouts’ eyes follow her workouts. She intends to play soccer in college and has already been recruited by three schools, with four more on the horizon. She has yet to make a decision, though her brother goes to the San Francisco Academy of the Arts, a school on her short list.

Over four seasons, Saunders tallied 125 goals in soccer while also scoring more than 1,000 points on the basketball court; an accomplishment never before achieved in the school’s history. She’ll leave behind a unique legacy of maintaining excellence and changing the culture for girls sports.

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