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Soccer: Fearless with flair


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KEVIN. B. KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA junior midfielder/forward Mallory Miller leads the Wildcats in scoring this season with three goals and seven assists this season. Miller has helped Arizona to an 8-1 start, the best ever in program history. The Wildcats face Pepperdine Friday night at home in search of their school-record ninth win of the season.
By Amanda Branam
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
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Junior Mallory Miller not afraid to put it all on the line for the score

The number of goals and assists speak for how talented she is, but it's how she gets the goals and assists that scream it.

"It's a little bit of flair and a lot of fearlessness," UA head soccer coach Dan Tobias said of junior midfielder and offensive force Mallory Miller.

With three goals and seven assists, there has hardly been a game in 2004 where Miller did not affect the outcome. Without her, the 8-1 record they currently enjoy might be somewhat different.

Take the Sept. 17 game against Northern Arizona. In the first half, Miller and Lumberjack goalkeeper Andrea Berra raced to a ball sitting just off the goal line. Miller slid towards the ball in a final attempt to beat Berra. She was unsuccessful, but it was a move that, had she made contact with Berra, could have gotten her into some trouble with the referees.

"If I see the ball in front of the net, I want to try any way to get it in the net. I'm really not afraid of getting hit - I mean, I just try to go for every ball. Every time it's in front of the net, I want to try to put it in," Miller said.

In the second half of that NAU game, the Wildcats scored three goals. The first came when Miller placed a pass right to midfielder Nikki David, who settled the ball and put it in.

Less than a minute later, midfielder Jennifer Klein lofted a high center into the box, and Miller challenged Berra for a ball again. The ball went over the outstretched arms of Berra and Miller, who was trying to head the ball. Without touching the ball, she pulled Berra off her line, rendering her useless to do anything for the remainder of the play. David ran onto the ball and put it in again.

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Miller earned the assist for the fourth and final goal of the game, splitting NAU defenders and passing the ball to forward Sarah Litt.

"I'm not afraid to go into tackles or get up for headers - I want our team to have the ball in whatever way that can happen. I'll try to get into any scuffle, anything," she said.

Miller said she has been a midfielder for her entire 16-year soccer career. She is a Tucson native who played high school soccer at Salpointe Catholic High School before making the short drive to the UA.

Midfielders, particularly center midfielders, have to be playmakers. They need to move the ball past a challenging player of the opposing team with little effort. They need to be creative, both on and off the ball, when the opportunity arises. Playing in the midfield came naturally for Miller, she said, but this year she is being put in a different role. Tobias moves her up to forward periodically to give the offense a different look. He usually puts her up front to complement senior forward Candice Wilks, one of the other offensive threats for the Wildcats.

Wilks, a first team all-Pacific 10 Conference performer last season, usually gets most of the attention from the opposing team's defenses. When junior forward Kelly Nelson returns from her ankle injury this week against Pepperdine, she will likely get much of the attention too. Miller isn't complaining.

"I'd rather have them have all the shine," Miller said. "Most teams will defend them and then I'm wide open for shots. I'm kind of glad no one really wants to mark me because they don't know what I can do."

Though the word intensity arises often when Miller's name comes up to her teammates, a smile and some laughter creep in first.

"My favorite thing is that she's so reserved as a person, she's so conservative," said Nelson. "But when she gets on the field, it's like she's a whole different person. I mean, she gets pissed, she gets very aggressive. She's just competitive. She wants to be the best; she is going to work really hard no matter what."

Klein shares the central midfield with Miller, and said she considers Miller one of her best friends on the team; except maybe during practice.

"She's such an intense player, so competitive, that it's always a competition with her. We're always battling out there together. It makes practice so much fun just knowing that, each day she's going to bring it, I'm going to bring it, and we just try to just beat the crap out of each other. But we know that is making us ready for the next game."

Arizona's next game is against No. 25 Pepperdine Friday night, a game that, if the Wildcats win, would put them at 9-1. No UA soccer team has ever won more than eight games in a season. For Miller and the rest of the Wildcat soccer team, that speaks - maybe screams - for itself.



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