Ayden Saunders joining the ranks of the best high school soccer players in Kansas has always been part of the plan.
Some athletes see an opportunity and become consumed with training and self-improvement to reach their goals, while others recognize what they’re capable of doing in an inborn way, know what they need to do and then just go ahead and do it, saving the emotions for the celebration.
In the same way that Saunders has time and again unlocked defensive formations like the opposing players aren’t even on the field, recording multiple hat tricks and more than 30 goals in total, the path to becoming a first team all-state athlete has been methodical. First get second team. Then set higher goal. Then achieve goal. Repeat. Improve.
“A lot of it comes natural,” Saunders said. “Obviously you have to work hard to do all that stuff, but I just do it.”
Joining Saunders in Topeka to receive Class 4A first team honors was Steven Jolly, as well as coaches Alex Supple for the boys and Alex Zanatta for the girls; Zanatta is also boys assistant coach.
“It was honestly one of the best feelings I had made, a goal I’ve had since the end of my junior year,” Jolly said. “I achieved it and I’m thankful for the praise I received, my recognition.”
Saunders and Jolly each saw milestones with their teams in the 2018-2019 academic year for Atchison High School, with the Redmen winning their first playoff game under Supple’s leadership and the Lady Red scoring their first playoff victory in the history of a program still in its infancy.
Jolly, who returned to first-team glory, said joining the top tier of high school soccer is a unique privilege.
“It was an honorable experience getting to see all the other great athletes being recognized by the state and hearing some of the great achievements by other athletes,” he said.
At the same time she is basking in the appreciation of her friends, coaches and teammates for having achieved so much as only a sophomore, Saunders also is aware that everything she does will help define traditions for the young AHS girls soccer program.
“You know, where some schools have decades of tradition, here, we are that tradition,” she said. “We know that this program is probably going to be here for a really long time.”
Jolly, who graduated with the class of 2019, said he expects Saunders will continue to be a dominant force in the Kansas City-Atchison league and across the state.
“I honestly do see Ayden achieving first-team all-state for her last two years, and I also believe that she can truly win Player of the Year for 4A in her years to come,” Jolly said. “She’s talented, and she works hard.”