CHAMPAIGN — A high school athlete can display leadership in numerous ways.
Maddy Wade turned to a few of them during her senior year with the Mahomet-Seymour girls' soccer program.
She aimed to lead by example on the pitch. Wade boasted 27 goals and a team-best 23 assists for a 24-2 pack of Bulldogs, a significant reason she headlines The News-Gazette's 22nd annual All-Area girls' soccer team as its Player of the Year.
Wade insisted on performing typical senior-oriented duties off the field as well, such as giving her younger teammates car rides to and from events.
And then there were the "prank wars," involving sophomores Maddi Claybrooke and Nyah Biegler pitching in with Wade to pull a fast one on M-S coach Kelsie Briggs.
Let Wade explain the details.
"She has a minivan," Wade said. "We walked down and took the ball bags in her car, and we got in her trunk and just hid in there. So when she opened up the back of the trunk, we scared her and it was awesome."
Wade molded herself into the multi-purpose leader M-S needed, in the wake of key graduations and the departure of former Bulldogs' coach Joey Gruner.
And she wouldn't have had it any other way.
"It's really cool because it's very similar to how I was (guided by upperclassmen as a freshman)," Wade said, "and I feel like that's what really pushed me to want to do the same thing when I got to senior year. Pay it forward."
★ ★ ★
This soccer path wasn't mapped out for Wade right away.
She started playing the sport at age 5, but didn't possess any grand ambitions.
"About fourth grade, I got a call from one of our family friends," Wade said. "He asked, 'Hey, would Maddy be interested in playing club soccer?'
"I'd never really thought about it before, but I was like, 'Yeah, that sounds pretty cool.'"
That's when the sport really took hold, as she spent time with both Mahomet Seymour Soccer Club and Illinois Futbol Club.
Even so, Wade wasn't satisfied with just one athletic venture. So she turned to basketball in sixth grade, even though she didn't have an abundance of experience in hoops.
"I really love sports in general and being active and athletic," Wade said. "When I play basketball I have to use my arms, and it's different muscles that I'm working."
Trying out and earning a spot on her seventh-grade basketball squad also instilled a sense of personal pride in Wade that carried over to soccer.
"I didn't get to play a lot, but I feel like it was good for me," she said. "Growing up, I was never really the star at any of the sports I played, which made me work a lot harder."
That meant battling through elements beyond simply trying to earn more starting time, which she eventually did by her senior year.
"We were backpedaling in (eighth-grade) basketball practice," Wade recalled. "I just tripped over myself and landed on my (left) arm and broke my radius and ulna."
She luckily didn't miss any soccer, suiting up with a cast while her arm healed.
That wasn't always the case, as Wade has to sacrifice soccer training time in the winter to focus on her hardwood efforts.
"I like that because it makes me work harder," Wade said. "It's a very timely and organized schedule, and I like keeping busy with things."
★ ★ ★
In ninth grade, Wade was offered a formative experience through soccer — one that affected her actions as a 12th-grader.
"When I was a freshman, I had a lot of good upperclassmen who took me under their wing and made me a better player," said Wade, who cited Erin and Kylie Lenschow, Meredith Johnson-Monfort and Mikaela Antonacci in that group.
"It made me feel like I was part of the team," Wade added. "I had a place, and also it's kind of cool just because ... they're still some of my best friends today."
Wade's play reflected the positive vibes she felt from forging these connections.
Wade banked five goals and added two assists as a freshman, claiming a stake in the first of four consecutive Class 2A regional trophies won by the Bulldogs.
She upped those numbers to 13 goals and six assists as a sophomore and 12 goals and six assists as a junior, all the while mentally preparing for more weight on her shoulders when Johnson-Monfort left for the University of Illinois.
"It was a really good feeling," Wade said. "One of the most important things I learned was you don't have to be scoring to be the best. ... This year, I did a lot better with passing and assisting."
And she also served as big sister to plenty of fresher-faced M-S athletes.
One who especially stands out is ninth-grader Cayla Koerner, and not only because she led a high-powered Bulldogs club in goals with 28.
"My nickname is Savage, and she's Little Savage," Wade said. "Our personalities are very similar. We're both goofy people, and we like to joke around."
So why is Wade known by that phrase?
"The word just became popular a couple years ago," Wade said. "When anyone asked me something, that would be my response to everything. I'm like, 'That's savage.'"
It might be a way opponents described Wade whenever facing her this year.
No local comers could stop her or the M-S outfit, which suffered its first and only in-state loss to Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin in a 2A sectional semifinal match.
Wade left an indelible mark on the Bulldogs both in 2019 and across her four years, compiling 57 goals and 37 assists along with a share of four regional plaques.
She'll try to do the same at Parkland College, continuing with soccer while majoring in kinesiology at the junior college in Champaign.
Whether that includes playing pranks on Cobras coach Tim Notz remains to be seen.
"We'll see how he is about that," Wade said with a laugh. "But, yeah, I'd love to if he's cool with it."
Honor Roll: News-Gazette All-Area girls' soccer Players of the Year
YEAR ATHLETE SCHOOL
2019 Maddy Wade Mahomet-Seymour
2018 Meredith Johnson-Monfort Mahomet-Seymour
2017 Meredith Johnson-Monfort Mahomet-Seymour
2016 Willa Olson Centennial
2015 Maddy Chalifoux Champaign Central
2014 Sarah Van Wingerden Mahomet-Seymour
2013 Dagny Olson Centennial
2012 Katelynn Martinez Centennial
2011 Chantal Meacham Centennial
2010 Dagny Olson Centennial
2009 Kelsie Donley Mahomet-Seymour
2008 Amanda Greco Champaign Central
2007 Liz Clegg Champaign Central
2006 Enca Houk Urbana
2005 Ashley Bolen Urbana
2004 Ella Masar Urbana
2003 Megan Bushue Centennial
2002 Tricia Johnson Centennial
2001 Brittany Ward Centennial
2000 Erica Peters Champaign Central
1999 Katie Stephens Urbana
1998 Katie Stephens Urbana