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Prep Newsmaker: Future Badger Malley O'Brien sparks Superior girls soccer team

Superior junior soccer player Malley O’Brien is playing her first season of high school soccer even though she already has committed to play college soccer at Wisconsin. Clint Austin /

Malley O’Brien is playing high school soccer for the first time this spring, and yet the Superior junior already has committed to play the sport collegiately at Wisconsin.

What gives?

O’Brien made a name for herself by excelling on the club soccer circuit, where she boosted her exposure while competing against some of the best players in the country. Three years of exhausting travel ultimately paid off in the form of interest from big-time college programs. Among her suitors were the Badgers, and O’Brien made her verbal commitment last summer.

Minus the burden of trying to attract scholarship offers, O’Brien no longer was tethered to her Twin Cities club team, the Minnesota Thunder Academy. She was intrigued by playing for the Spartans.

“Since I’m already committed, I wasn’t going to be traveling down to the Cities and back,” O’Brien said before practice Thursday. “(Now), I can still play soccer every day, be able to play for my school and represent my school.”

Along the way, she’s been reunited with long-ago teammates.

“I used to play with pretty much all these girls when I was younger, so getting back with them and playing with them again is a lot of fun,” she said.

Fun for O’Brien and the Spartans — not so much for their opponents. Despite playing in just six games, the crafty center midfielder is among Wisconsin’s scoring leaders. Her 17 goals rank third, and the two players ahead of her have played 10 and 11 games, respectively. O’Brien, an expert ballhandler with uncanny field vision, has scored at least four goals in a game three times, including the five she tallied in a 7-4 victory over Baldwin-Woodville.

Superior, more of a grind-it-out,     defensive-minded squad during Len Albrecht’s first three seasons as coach, suddenly is an offensive juggernaut. The Spartans have averaged nearly five goals per game en route to a 5-1 start (5-0 in the Middle Border Conference).

“It’s been a different experience because we’ve never really had that pure striker before,” Albrecht said.

Neither he nor the rest of the Spartans, who have welcomed their highly acclaimed “rookie” with open arms, are complaining. Many of Superior’s veterans played youth soccer with O’Brien, and were excited — if not a bit curious — to add her back into the mix this spring.

“It’s kind of cool just because I haven’t played with her since (recreational) about three years ago,” senior defender Jaydeen Anderson said. “It’s really awesome to see how far she’s developed playing-wise and skill-wise. It’s cool to see her play high school.”

At the club level, and also in the Olympic Development Program, the 5-foot-4 O’Brien often was just another talented player on a field teeming with them. Her game was more about setting up teammates and passing ahead to forwards. Now, she’s the one lighting up the scoreboard, and she’s relishing the opportunity.

“I’m taking advantage of it,” said O’Brien, who also rejoined the Spartans basketball team over the winter after not playing as a sophomore. “I’ve been able to score and do different things that I wouldn’t normally do on my club team. I can dribble through people more and kind of be my own player.”

Off to a fast start, Superior, which still hasn’t practiced outside this spring, is hoping for its first taste of postseason success. Albrecht doubts the Spartans ever have won a playoff game but with an experienced squad that boasts a prodigious goal scorer, that could change come June.

If it does, expect the future Badger to play a leading role.

“She makes everybody better,” Albrecht said.

Prep Newsmaker: Malley O’Brien

Prep status: Superior junior

Age: 17

Sports: Soccer and basketball

GPA: 3.8

School activities: Future Business Leaders of America

Family: Father, Bill; mother, Heidi; brother, Eddy

Pets: Two dogs — a Labradoodle (Taxi) and a poodle (Tater)

College plans: Play soccer at the University of Wisconsin