Trading sports: Former slugger leads league in shutouts

What a difference a year made for Skyline’s Brian Schwartz.

What a difference a year made for Skyline’s Brian Schwartz.

Last spring he was playing junior varsity baseball — seeing limited time as a utility player. Fast forward a year, and Schwartz has become a star on a completely different stage — the soccer field. In his first season of varsity soccer, the junior goalkeeper leads the KingCo 3A with six shutouts and has 34 saves for the Spartans, who after Tuesday were 7-4-3 and in contention for the top spot in the league.

“I wanted to make an impact,” Schwartz said. “I knew that on the baseball team, I’d have to be a role player if I was going to get any playing time at all — probably spend some time on J.V. I knew if I came over to play soccer that we were going to be a strong team this year.”

Schwartz’s decision turned into a pleasant surprise for Skyline head coach Don Braman.

“It was certainly a great find to realize Brian had so much great talent in tryouts,” he said. “I knew he played, but didn’t understand he would be able to play at such a high level.”

The find was significant to Braman, who knew prior to the season he would be without the services of Dillon Saffle, his first-team all-league goalkeeper from the previous season. Saffle, a junior, now plays for the Crossfire Premier Soccer Club, which is in the new U.S. Soccer Development Academy program. The Academy’s rules don’t allow players to simultaneously participate in high school soccer, and have been a topic of great controversy among Washington high school coaches.

The emergence of Schwartz, however, has made the loss of one of the top goalkeepers in the state easier to swallow.

“His composure and understanding of how the game should be run is great,” Braman said. “Brian does all the important things. He’s great at shot-stopping, which is obviously important for a goalkeeper. His footwork and technical skills are great. He’s great at point-blank range, especially.”

Schwartz, who was a catcher on the baseball team, also possesses a certain mentality that makes him an ideal goalkeeper.

“Every time I go out there I want to get a shutout,” he said. “I want to have an error-free game (and) do my part so the forwards can do theirs.”

Schwartz’s attitude toward the game hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates.

“He shows great leadership in the back,” junior Josh Twaddle said. “He yells for balls, he passes it out. … We’re excited to have him.”

Junior Edgar Esquivel said Schwartz has fit in to the program with ease, noting nobody ever game him a hard time about his transition from baseball to soccer.

“We want him to focus more on soccer now,” Esquivel said. “He’s got a good thing going for him.”

While playing high school soccer and being on the varsity stage are new to Schwartz, soccer is not. He started playing as a 5-year-old and has continuously played recreational and premier soccer since. He is currently a member of the Eastside F.C.

Soccer wasn’t always his first love, however.

“I picked up a baseball when I was a toddler,” Schwartz said. “It was always my favorite. I was always playing baseball (and) playing catch — soccer was just kind of a thing on the side.”

That all recently changed as Schwartz admitted his passion for baseball decreased his freshman and sophomore seasons.

“It was more of a chore, like ‘I’ve got to go and play baseball,’” he said.

His transition to starting on the varsity soccer team was nerve-wracking at first, but Schwartz said he doesn’t regret his decision for a second.

“It’s fun to be in front of your peers and know everyone’s cheering for you and they know who you are,” he said. “I was also nervous to just be accepted. I knew some of the guys, but I didn’t know all of them. They’ve embraced me. We’ve had a lot of fun. There’s a lot of cool guys on the team.”

Now, with the first-season jitters behind him, Schwartz said he and his teammates are ready to take another large step.

“When it’s all said and done, we want to make it to state,” he said. “I think we definitely have the potential to do that.”