Amanda Hilton's zeal for her sport and her teammates were on full display throughout the St. Charles East girls soccer team's run to the IHSA Class 3A state championship match.
Whether laughing with teammates, urging them on or beaming after another East victory, Hilton's leadership was in full bloom. And if the ball was anywhere near Hilton's zip code, it was a safe bet the senior midfielder wasn't about to be outworked.
Hilton, the Kane County Chronicle Girls Soccer Player of the Year, supplied the best stretch of her Saints career throughout East's postseason surge. The Nebraska recruit has plenty of skill, but it's Hilton's intangibles that make her special, East coach Paul Jennison said.
"Most of the time in athletics it comes down to heart and desire," Jennison said. "Do you actually want to be as successful as you say you do? The girl shows no fear out there. She puts her body on the line for the desired outcome but also for the team outcome. She's that player that can [change] the game and inspire the people around her."
Hilton set the tone throughout East's postseason run, winning almost every ball that came her way and dictating a major possession advantage for her team.
As well as Hilton played, it's easy to understand why her body language conveyed such joy.
"I tried to soak it up as much as possible," Hilton said. "It's been a journey, man. St. Charles East, there's no other high school I'd rather be at. This is unbelievable. We went from never winning a regional [during her four year-varsity career] to going to state and placing second. I couldn't ask for more. These girls are incredible. I'm going to miss them so much. My career at East has been far greater than I ever thought it'd be."
Hilton has been a basketball and soccer stalwart at East but her senior hoops season was cut short due to a hairline kneecap fracture suffered during a Christmas tournament.
Dismayed as she was to miss the final months of the season, a silver lining emerged – she emerged healthy and unusually well-rested for soccer season.
"You never want to see a player hurt or missing out on an opportunity but from a soccer standpoint, her having rest for the first time in five, six years rolling into soccer season was invaluable for her," Jennison said. "She came in fresh and rejuvenated. Obviously it was a tremendous loss for the basketball team but it turned out to be a gain for us.
"She had a renewed desire to be successful, and combine that with wanting to be part of a senior group that wanted to leave a lasting legacy, it all seemed to join together and form a perfect recipe for success this year."
Hilton led the Saints with 17 goals, including a header score that tied the state semifinal match with Lincoln-Way North at 1 en route to a 3-1 East victory. She notched the lone goal in the Saints' 1-0 win against Conant in the sectional championship game, a match in which she also hit the post and the crossbar in a sizzling performance. Hilton also was second on the team in assists (13).
Despite standing just 5-foot-5, Hilton was undeterred battling for balls in the air or through thick traffic.
"She plays so much bigger than her body size," senior defender Shannon Rasmussen said. "Overall, she's just a well-rounded player."
East goalkeeper Kendra Sheehan called Hilton "a fantastic player to learn from," saluting her uplifting leadership style.
That praise came on North Central College's soccer field last Saturday night, shortly after the Saints' first state championship game appearance in 14 years. The next morning, Hilton already was due to set off for Lincoln, Nebraska, to begin gearing up for her career with the Cornhuskers.
A senior season that she relished completely provided momentum for the transition.
"St. Charles East girls soccer helped me become who I am right now," Hilton said. "I'm going to carry that on into Nebraska."