Coming into the 2013-14, the Maricopa High School girls soccer team was on very few people’s radar. After three wins last year, the program was in a tough spot and was in dire need of some new leadership.
In stepped a new coach, Mallory Miller, who was brought in to change the mindset of these girls, both on and off the soccer field. And she did so from the first day she stepped foot on campus.
“Right from tryouts, I told the girls I am not interested in who was on varsity in past years. I am looking for the hardest working players,” Miller said.
Miller ultimately selected eight freshman for the team and retained only three players who were on varsity the previous season.
“I wanted a clean slate,” Miller stated. “I explained to them that they will earn a varsity spot based on work ethic. I was a very hard working player and that’s what I wanted to see out of them.”
As a player, Miller gained soccer prominence while attending Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson. She then became a member of the Arizona Women’s Soccer team. However, that chapter of her life didn’t begin the way she had hoped.
“Starting out as a freshman, I was only one of three that didn’t pass the fitness test and had to work my way back onto the team,” she explained.
It was that work ethic that ultimately made her one of the best soccer players in Arizona Wildcat history. By the time she was done in Tucson, she set 12 program records, which included most goals scored, assists, total points, games played and started. She was the 2005 Pac-10 Player of the Year, was nominated for Woman of the Year in the Pac-10 and was an All-American. This past fall, Salpointe Catholic named Miller to their Sports Hall of Fame.
“The main thing I stress with the high school girls- I wasn’t most skilled and coaches didn’t give me a second glance when I was going into college,” she said. “I fought myself through adversity. I tell the girls that you don’t have to be the best player or play on the best club. It’s all about the work you put into it. Work hard and success will come. That’s been my motto.”
That motto is taking shape at Maricopa. It took some time for the veteran players on the team to get used to the new philosophy and the character necessary to be a part of Miller’s new direction.
“A few seniors pushed my buttons about missing practice in the beginning,” she mentioned. “They are all on board now. They were used to showing up and doing what they wanted. I had to turn that mentality around.”
The buy-in from the players is turning it around. A team that won just three games a season ago is now 7-3 and was just crowned the champions of a tournament at Apache Junction High School after not allowing a single goal in five games.
They have been lead by a junior, Kourtney Brown, who doesn’t necessarily top the team in stats, but does everything else for the Rams both on and off the field.
“I didn’t name any captains until the Apache Junction tournament,” stated Miller. “Kourntey Brown has been the only one who will step up at practice and in games that will exude the energy I bring.”
Another new face to the team, a foreign exchange student from Norway, Ingvild Lappegard, is a senior defenseman that Miller has called, “the anchor of the team.” It is her first year in the U.S. and that world class flavor that she brings adds a new element to the team.
The experience from the veterans run the show on the defensive side of the ball. On the offensive attack, the young players are taking control. The Rams’ mid-fielders and forwards are all freshman and sophomores, including leading point scorers, sophomore Andrea Perez and freshman Amanda Maciel. They are both maturing very quickly which bodes well for the program.
“We have eight games left and I hope we can keep it going,” said Miller. “I know the girls are very excited about what they have already been able to accomplish.”