Three Septembers ago, Carlee Maluenda arrived to try out for the Union High School girls soccer team uncertain she could make the squad. But the doubts she had about belonging were not evident to the coaches.
"Immediately she established herself as one of the top 11 players in the program," Titans coach Kelcey Burris said.
GIRLS SOCCER PREVIEW
Players to watch
Aurora Bodenhamer, sr., mid Hockinson; Carlee Maluenda, sr., mid., Union; Nicole Mattson, sr., fwd., Evergreen; Jordyn Voyles, sop., fwd., Ridgefield; Bobbi Eckler, sr. midfielder, Union; Maddie Sjothun, jr., def, Union; Emily Ponce, Sr. mid, Camas; Jamie Carter. Sr. GK, Camas; Zilha Ramic, sr., mf, Prairie.
4A GSHL: With Camas jumping up to Class 4A, this league will have some interesting matchups. Skyview has ruled the 4A GSHL for several years, but both Camas and Union figure to push the rebuilding Storm this season. Evergreen also figures to compete for a playoff spot, if not for the title. Three teams will advance to the bi-district playoff round.
3A GSHL: With Camas, which won the last two titles and five of the last seven, now at 4A, this race looks wide open. Kelso might be the preseason favorite, but Prairie was the runner up last season, and Columbia River and Mountain View (with nine returning starters) also look ready the join the battle for the league title.
2A GSHL: Ridgefield is back up at 2A, renewing its rivalry with Hockinson. To win the league, the Spudders and Hawks will have to beat out a strong Mark Morris side. Washougal’s Ellie Boon, a three-time all-league forward and last season’s Columbian All-Region Player of the Year, is not playing high school soccer in her senior year.
1A Trico League: Based on early results, this league is wide open. La Center, which qualified for state in 2011, is off to a fast start in the league that Ridgefield won last season. King’s Way Christian returns all-league defender Heidi Fronk and won three of its first four league games. Woodland has four early league wins. Seton Catholic junior Forward Lucy Defilippis was second-team all-league last season.
That first impression has become a lasting impact. Now a senior, Maluenda is among the top players in the region, a confident midfielder whose presence is valued as much for her consistency as for her competitiveness.
Maluenda has started every varsity soccer match the Union girls have played since she arrived on campus in 2009, first as a defender and now as a play-making midfielder.
"She has brought a competitive spirit to our program that is second to none," Burris said. "There's never a question about Carlee's commitment to our program and to her teammates."
As much as Maluenda has meant to Union girls soccer, it's possible that Union girls soccer has meant even more to Maluenda.
Burris considers Maluenda's growth off the field "one of our crowning achievements since we've established the program."
Introverted by nature -- "Socially, I'm not the easiest person to talk to, I'm really shy" -- Maluenda blossoms with a soccer ball at her feet.
"I'm a completely different person on the field," she said. "The field is kind of my sanctuary where I can just let loose and just play my game."
Toughness is one of the ingredients that defines Maluenda's game. Among her favorite parts of the sport are the challenges, battling for balls in the air or brave tackles on the turf.
Not backing down has produced sore ankles and other pains. Not that Maluenda would skip a chance to play.
Evidence of that came in July during the U.S. Club Soccer National Cup XI tournament near Chicago. Despite hip, knee and hamstring injuries, Maluenda contributed as a team representing Vancouver Timbers soccer club won their branch of the national event.
"It was a lot of fun," she said, noting that the tournament team that came together for the national event included many of the top high school players in Clark County.
Achievements such as that -- or scoring the winning goal to beat rival Skyview two seasons ago -- are evidence of Maluenda's soccer ability.
She said she isn't sure where she will play soccer beyond high school. But the game has already helped her appreciate the value of education.
She credits Burris and school counselor La Mont Woods for helping her handle the challenges of high school.
"I just learned that soccer is not always going to be there, so better to educate myself than to be stuck on one sport," she said.
Maluenda has also found her voice, at least when it's needed on the soccer field.
"She says little, but when she says it, it carries great weight," Burris said. "She's always had the respect of the entire program top to bottom, players and coaches."