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JEFF ANTENORE, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER
El Toro's Gwen Maly scores the game's first goal on a penalty kick during a 2-1 win at San Juan Hills High School on Thursday.

El Toro's Maly seeing fearless approach rewarded

CONTRIBUTING WRITIER

The right mixture of talent and hard work leads to special things.

From the time Gwen Maly was a freshman, El Toro girls soccer coach Steve Van Dam recognized that Maly possessed those qualities. Although she was on the junior varsity team as a freshman, Van Dam observed the characteristics that would turn Maly into a promising captain.

“She is fearless,” Van Dam said. “She will challenge any ball. She will do whatever it takes to get to it. That’s kind of her approach anywhere. That’s how she is in the classroom. That’s how she is on the field.”

Maly made the jump to varsity as a sophomore, posting seven goals and six assists. The following year, she was named to the captaincy. Much like her traditional self, Maly led by example. The center forward doubled her numbers, scoring 14 goals and adding 10 assists.

At 5-foot-10, Maly’s strength and fearless nature always had worked to her advantage. She showed a willingness to go into the dirty areas, taking on multiple defenders in the box to make a play.

Van Dam described Maly as a player whose abilities frequently have gone unrecognized. He said the senior forward has shown steady improvement throughout her career.

Perhaps it is to no one’s surprise, then, that Maly has greatly thrived as co-captain as El Toro aims for its first playoff appearance since the 2009-10 season. The New Mexico commit is tied for eighth in the county in goals with 14.

Maly says that her biggest contribution to the team has nothing to do with her ball-striking prowess. Instead, her greatest improvement this year has been communication.

“I just tried to be more of a vocal persona on the field,” she said. “I’ve traditionally led by example, but I think that with being named a captain, I started to be more vocal. I have learned to use my words in positive ways because that is more helpful than (constructive criticism).”

Van Dam asserted that with the latest step in Maly’sdevelopment, the senior has fully embraced her role as the Chargers’ co-captain.

“It’s clear that this is Gwen’s team, and she is the point person for most of the players,” he said. “I tell the players to talk to their captain, and if they do, they go to Gwen. She embraces that role.”

Maly has taken on additional responsibilities. The Chargers play a 4-3-3 formation, with a triangle middle. Maly changed positions from forward to a holding center-midfielder, allowing her to influence the game on both sides of the ball. It hasn’t affected her production as the senior has seen more opportunities to create for her teammates.

El Toro’s strong back line, led by UCLA commit Kaiya McCullough and junior Kyleigh Burton, has enabled Maly to be a force on the offensive end. The Chargers (11-2-5) are surging. They lead the Sea View League with a 2-1-1 record, having defeated league rivals San Juan Hills and Laguna Hills by a combined 7-1 margin in their last two games.

“Our team is very motivated to make it to the playoffs,” Maly said. “We even have a goal to win CIF. We try to have the mentality that we will win and we can get that far.”


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