Nick Schnabel broke the Padres’ single-season scoring record and helped lead the team to their first ever Central Coast Section championship in a 2-2 draw with Gilroy.
Serra soccer standout Nick Schnabel said he decided after his junior year that his senior season — both the high school and club campaigns — would be his last playing high-competition soccer.
If that is the case, he certainly finished his soccer career with a bang.
Schnabel broke the Padres’ single-season, goal-scoring record and helped lead the them to their first-ever Central Coast Section championship, a 2-2 draw with Gilroy.
He can now add one last accolade to his soccer list: the Daily Journal’s Soccer Player of the Year honor.
“I’m not looking to play soccer in college. I want to major in engineering and that’s a major commitment,” Schnabel said. “I’ve been playing since I was 5. Playing club since I was 8. It’s bittersweet. I look at it like I’m closing a chapter on my life. I have things I want to try and more life I want to experience.”
If this truly was his last season of soccer, Schnabel could not have finished it any better. All the records and accomplishments are nice, but what Schnabel will truly treasure was the time spent with his team. With 15 seniors on this year’s squad, they grew up together at Serra and it culminated with a CCS Division II co-title. Schnabel recognizes that nothing he accomplished this season could have been done without his teammates.
“We’ve grown so close. Being able to play with them this last year, it was a great way to end my high school career,” Schnabel said. “Our team chemistry has been incredible this year. I think this is the closest knit group of guys I’ve ever played with.”
Serra coach Jeff Panos is not surprised Schnabel would credit his teammates with helping him reach the heights not many attain. Panos said Schnabel is one of the most humble people you will meet, but don’t mistake his humbleness for weakness. Put a soccer ball at Schnabel’s feet and he becomes as deadly as an assassin.
“He’s the complete package: humble, technically and tactically gifted,” Panos said. “As soon as he was able to receive (the ball) and turn, there was no one on the field who could contain him. His first touch was just about better than anyone.
“He sees the field before it unfolds. That’s the remarkable thing. He’s like a chess master — always thinking two steps ahead. He has the technical ability with his feet and the speed to do it that makes him impossible to defend. That’s what separates him from most strikers.”
The other thing that separates Schnabel from others is just the sheer volume of balls he puts in the back of the net. The previous Serra record was 17 goals in one season. Schnabel eclipsed that mark about halfway through the season on his way to 30 goals in 23 games.
Not that it was much of a surprise to Panos. After a breakout year on the freshman squad, Schnabel has spent the last three seasons on varsity. Panos knew that once Schnabel matured, he would be lethal.
“We knew (he was going to be good),” Panos said. “As a freshman, he scored, like, 22 goals. We knew we had something special.”
Panos said Schnabel spent his sophomore and junior seasons adjusting to the physical nature of the West Catholic Athletic League and learning to be a leader. This year as team captain, everything came together.
“This year, he really felt like it was his team,” Panos said. “Last year, I don’t think he felt like it was his place to speak up.”
And when the pressure was on, it seemed Schnabel took his game to another level. In three CCS playoffs games, Schnabel scored four goals — each time with the Padres trailing. In quarterfinals, the Padres were down 2-1 to Willow Glen when they earned a penalty kick — which Schnabel missed.
He more than made up for it, however, by scoring twice during a six-minute span to tie the game then to give Serra the lead in what would eventually be a 4-2 Padres’ victory.
“After I missed the penalty, I was pretty frustrated,” Schnabel said. “But I knew we would have other opportunities.
“If we would have lost that game, I would haven beaten myself up.”
Schnabel was held scoreless in a 3-1 semifinal win over Leigh, but bounced back with another two-goal effort against Gilroy in the CCS championship game. After struggling through much of the game being defended by a player who was head and shoulders taller than him, Panos moved him out to the flank and it paid off almost immediately. Trailing 1-0 with about five minutes to play, Schnabel beat a pair of defenders to tie the game. He gave the Padres a 2-1 lead on another brilliant goal in the first overtime, only to see the Mustangs get the equalizer minutes later.
Despite having to settle for a co-championship, Schnabel’s senior season really could not have gone any better.
“My personal goals are tied to team goals. The goal is never to set records,” Schnabel said. “At the beginning of the year, we were looking to hang a (CCS) banner. It’s just amazing to play our very last game and not lose.”