When Maya Woods found her voice as a leader of the Union girls soccer team, a growth in confidence soon followed.
As the youngest of three siblings, Woods didn’t always know how her voice fit in. But seeing older sisters MaKayla and Macee excel in school and play key roles in Union’s soccer program, Maya observed how they carried themselves and processed it.
First came MaKayla, who set program records for goals scored in a single season and entire career. Next up was Macee, a defensive specialist and the Titans’ go-to vocal leader by her senior season in 2019, which also coincided with Maya’s first season playing varsity soccer as a freshman.
Through the experiences of her sisters, Maya took bits and pieces from them and made it uniquely her own. Going into her senior year this fall, she was an obvious choice for Union coach Kelecy Burris to be one of the team’s captains alongside fellow senior Sydney Young. Teammates have embraced her.
“Finding my voice, I think, was a little hard, especially having two older sisters. I think sometimes I don’t know exactly what my voice is,” Maya Woods said. “But in soccer, being a captain and being a leader, I kind of came into my own. I just did that with having so much support from all the other girls.”
Burris has led the Titans’ program from the time the school opened its doors in 2007, and since 2014, has had at least one of the three sisters on the team. He sees similar traits in all of them that were instilled by parents LaMont and Kira Woods — hard-working, passionate, supportive — all of which make them natural leaders.
They’re also uniquely different. For Maya, the part that stands out this season is how she uses her voice. Just days ago, MaKayla received a video from her mom of Maya pumping up her Union teammates while the team huddled before the start of a game. The eldest sister felt a sense of pride watching it.
“She’s learning her voice carries more weight than she thinks it does,” Burris said. “It’s that humble confidence. She’ll always lead by example, just like her sisters did, but her being able to find her voice, and how to say things and when to say things, is showing her maturity, her growth as an individual and as a leader.”
Along with her voice, Maya tries to “show the expectation” with her teammates. In practices, she’ll go in for a hard tackle to show teammates what it will look like at game speed. She wants teammates to know that she expects the best from each one of them, just as she expects the best from herself. That was something she learned from Macee while playing on the same Union team, Maya at right forward and Macee at right outside back.
“She would always have the expectation for me,” Maya Woods said, “even if she was yelling at me on the field to drop back, it really pushed me on the field into who I am now, knowing exactly what to do and having that motivation. Seeing my sister play, I think it really pushed me a lot.”
That was the only high school season Maya played on the same team with a sibling, though all three have dedicated many hours to training together during breaks from school when everyone is home in Vancouver at the same time.
Whatever the sessions entail, whether they’re working out on a track, running hills or going through one-on-one drills, the atmosphere always fosters healthy competition among the three. They’re always pushing each other.
As Maya grew older, there have been several instances where she’s the one picking her older siblings up, or pushing them to go just a little further. It’s indicative, MaKayla said, of Maya’s growing voice, and how she’s coming into it even more now.
“There’s a difference between being competitive with teammates and being competitive with your sisters,” Maya Woods said, “just because you’re seeing them every day, you’re pushing them and also, them being older than me, I always wanted to be just as good as they were, even though I was younger and maybe sometimes I wasn’t.”
For some, it would be hard following a long line of family members who Both MaKayla (Washington) and Macee (Western Oregon) have gone on to play college soccer, their parents, LaMont and Kira, were athletes at Oregon and Oregon State, respectively, in addition to aunts, uncles and cousins who have been college athletes.
They agree Maya has handled it well. In her own recruiting process, she drew on the experiences of her sisters to help guide her decision.
In August, she announced her verbal commitment to Metropolitan State University of Denver, a Division II school in Colorado. She also credits a change in club teams, moving from FC Portland to Washington Timbers FC last spring, as a key factor in her growing confidence.
“I think there’s been a lot of expectations for her, and a lot of people who assume they already know her,” MaKayla Woods said. “But she’s never let those expectations change the way that she views herself and her own journey.
“It’s been interesting seeing Maya have her own mentality and her own thought process. But in the same way, she’s kind of used me and Macee as the pillars to the way she wants to lead. She kind of has grabbed little nuggets of me and Macee’s individual personalities, the way that we do things and has made it into her own.”
In addition to team goals Maya and her Union teammates set for this season, there’s another thing she’s made known: she’s coming for MaKayla’s single-season scoring record of 17 goals, which the latter set as a freshman in 2014.
“I definitely want to break that record, take her name down, put mine up,” Maya Woods said. “But I also think she wants that for me, because my sisters definitely are my biggest fans, and they tell me that every day.”
Without question, older sister is rooting for her.
“She can try,” MaKayla Woods joked. “I want her to break it as much as she can. That’s all how we are as sisters. We’re super, super competitive but at the same time we want (each other) to do just as good or even better than we did, because I think it has something to do with legacy … and it’s been ingrained in us.”
Players to watch
Keely Wieczorek, sr., Camas
Madeline Johnson, sr., Camas
Maya Woods, sr., Union
Bella Burns, sr., Camas
Lauryn Krith, jr., Mountain View
Ani Qualls, sr., Mountain View
Cali Turigliatto, sr., Prairie
Josie Settle, sr., Kelso
Madison Thoreson, jr., Prairie
Adrianne Agbayani, jr., Evergreen
Logann Dukes, sr., Columbia River
Andie Buckley, sr., Columbia River
Claire Jones, sr., Ridgefield
Anna Mooney, sr., Seton Catholic
Shaela Bradley, jr., La Center
Sophia Johnson, jr., La Center
Josie Brandenburg, jr., Kalama