When Prairie Ridge senior forward Nikki Anderson has questions about how to attack an opposing defense, she seeks out Prairie Ridge’s own defenders.
“I’m an attack-minded player. I talk with a defender just to get that side of the game because I don’t get that [experience] as much,” Anderson said.
Nobody understands a defense’s weaknesses better than the defenders. Whatever the Prairie Ridge defenders are telling Anderson, it’s working. Few have succeeded more in exploiting defenses than Anderson.
She scored 18 goals in Prairie Ridge’s first 10 matches, including at least one goal in all 10 of those matches. She’s on a two-game scoreless streak this week, but nobody expects that to last long.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Prairie Ridge coach Mark Lewis said. “She works really, really hard in practice. Everybody knows who she is in the area. So for her to be doing what she’s doing is phenomenal. She’s always looking to get in behind [the defense]. She’s just a great kid to coach. She wants to improve and get better, and make the team better.”
The Wolves (10-1-1, 2-1 Fox Valley Conference) are off to another strong start after winning 17 games in each of the past two seasons. The program has won seven consecutive regional titles.
Teammate Abby Eriksen has 15 goals after recording a hat trick in Thursday’s win over McHenry. Together, Eriksen and Anderson have combined for 33 of Prairie Ridge’s 40 goals this season.
The duo was stymied Tuesday in a 2-0 FVC loss to Crystal Lake Central. It marked Prairie Ridge’s first regular-season loss since 2017. Anderson said the Wolves have a lot to learn from that contest.
“We let our emotions get the best of us a little bit,” Anderson said. “Central just wanted it a little more than we did. We played really hard, but there’s still some improvements we could have made.”
The Wolves are far from out of the FVC race, but they will need a lot to go right to successfully defend their conference title.
Lewis said Anderson only needs to keep doing what she’s doing. Anderson has scored multiple goals in five matches this season, including a season-high four goals against Dundee-Crown on April 3.
This comes after she scored nine goals all of last season. Anderson believes she has learned to make better decisions on the field.
“There’s a time to just go, and there’s a time to rely on teammates and lay off and make a run,” Anderson said. “I’ve learned that you don’t always have to do everything by yourself.”
Anderson skipped her freshman season to play club soccer year-round. As a sophomore in 2017, she was overshadowed by Makena Silber, who led Prairie Ridge with
28 goals and now plays Division I soccer at Illinois.
After Silber tore an ACL in a Class 2A regional championship victory in 2017, Anderson stepped up and created a key scoring chance in Prairie Ridge’s 1-0 sectional semifinal overtime victory. The Wolves wound up winning the sectional and almost qualified for state.
“She’s a great vocal leader on the field,” Lewis said. “She’s incredibly humble, and she doesn’t like a lot of fanfare about her accomplishments.
“She sees pockets of space that she makes great runs toward. One-v-one, she’s pretty much unstoppable. More and more teams are double- and triple-teaming her. She can finish inside the box, with both feet, outside the box, with her head.”
Anderson will play in college at Division II Concordia University, St. Paul (Minnesota). She plays club ball with the Crystal Lake Force, where Lewis also coaches.
“I just hope that we keep growing as a team and we continue to play how we have been,” Anderson said. “We have had a really great start. I hope we can continue that through the rest of the season and keep growing together.”