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Superior's O'Brien to play college soccer at Wisconsin

Malley O'Brien is breathing easier this week after a busy summer spent playing soccer and visiting colleges. She won't graduate from Superior High School until 2015, but she now has her future mapped out with the Wisconsin Badgers. O'Brien gave a...

Malley O'Brien
Superior High School's Malley O'Brien verbally committed to play Division I soccer for the University of Wisconsin. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Malley O'Brien is breathing easier this week after a busy summer spent playing soccer and visiting colleges.

She won't graduate from Superior High School until 2015, but she now has her future mapped out with the Wisconsin Badgers.

O'Brien gave a verbal commitment to the University of Wisconsin women's soccer program on Aug. 19. The junior is the first female soccer player from Superior to commit to a Division I school.

"I always wanted to go there since I was little," O'Brien said. "I like everything about the school."

O'Brien, 16, plays as a center midfielder for the Minnesota Thunder Academy team based in Minneapolis. She made multiple visits to the UW campus this summer and attended a Badgers exhibition game after speaking to Badgers coach Paula Wilkins at a soccer camp.

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"I went to the Wisconsin Badger camp, and she had pulled me aside afterwards and said that I should continue speaking with her and make another visit because she was interested in me playing with them," O'Brien said.

College coaches first began showing interest in O'Brien when she was 14 years old. Coaches couldn't contact her directly because of NCAA recruiting rules, so O'Brien's club coaches informed her of interested schools and left her to make the call.

"That was one of the hardest things, was me having to call coaches," O'Brien said. "I had to give them a call, and they couldn't call me back.

O'Brien said she was jittery before every call. She managed to impress the coaches, however, and soon Division I offers were pouring in.

Heidi O'Brien, Malley's mother, said it was mind boggling to consider the options.

"How do you even think about sending your 14-year-old to, say, Texas?" Heidi O'Brien said. "It was intense. She handled it probably better than we did."

Malley O'Brien winnowed the list to a few favorites, and this summer made unofficial visits to the University of Memphis, Drake University, Saint Louis University and Wisconsin. Scholarships were discussed at all four.

She also drew interest from Marquette, Davidson (N.C.), North Dakota State University, University of Toledo, University of Central Florida and American University.

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"I thought about it for a long time," O'Brien said.

She liked the idea of staying in Wisconsin, not too far from home, but her decision was based mostly on getting to know Wilkins and seeing the direction of the women's soccer program.

"It is a contender in the NCAA tournament as of now, but it's getting better and better each year, and I want to be a part of that," O'Brien said.

The Badger women's soccer team finished the 2012 season 12-8-1 overall and 5-5-1 in the Big Ten Conference. This year, the Badgers have opened the season with a pair of victories and an exhibition win over Marquette.

O'Brien began playing soccer as a four-year-old. She learned to play in the YMCA league, with Dan Blank as her first coach.

"I really liked him, and I like playing with all the people," O'Brien said. "That's basically where it all started. I just really enjoyed it."

From there O'Brien played for East Select Soccer and the Gitchi Gummi Soccer Club, both based in Duluth. Her coaches encouraged her to try out for the Olympic Development Program, and as a ninth-grader she was named to the regional team in her age group.

"With my region team, it's a step below the (U.S.) National Team," O'Brien said. "There's a lot of good girls (soccer players) out there, but it's always been a goal of mine" to make the National Team.

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"I always watched the U.S. National team, and I loved watching clips of Mia Hamm. She was always my favorite to watch," O'Brien said. "Now it's Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, all of them."

After being selected for the Olympic Development Program, O'Brien joined the Minnesota Thunder Academy in Minneapolis. She plays for the team year-round, which means lots of driving.

Two to three times a week, O'Brien makes the trip to the Twin Cities to practice. It takes seven to eight hours to get in a single practice.

"With school and everything it was pretty stressful," O'Brien said.

She usually did homework during the long drives and grabbed an hour of sleep whenever she could. On days when she couldn't make the commute, O'Brien practiced on her own.

"There were a lot of moments that weren't easy, but she never once complained," Heidi O'Brien said. "We're really proud, obviously."

Malley O'Brien said she is thankful to her parents, Heidi and Bill, for supporting her and to her coaches for challenging her.

"I would never have seen myself so far with the game if it wasn't for them," O'Brien said.

Now, with her college decision out of the way, O'Brien has one last piece of unfinished business -- to finally play high school soccer for the Superior Spartans.

"If not this year, then hopefully my senior year," O'Brien said.

  • Minnesota Thunder Academy is not a club team, so the players travel to various locales for games; and O'Brien has also traveled for Olympic Development Program matches. "I've been to Las Vegas; San Diego; San Antonio; New York; Orlando, Fla.; all of those places," O'Brien said. She's also been to Michigan, Illinois, Kansas and Missouri for regional play.
  • O'Brien is a member of the SHS cross country team and track team during the school year. "I feel like cross country helped a lot with my endurance and keeping me in shape," O'Brien said. "Every time I'd come off cross country season to soccer season, I'd feel like I was in really good shape and I could run forever."
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