Throughout her career at NAU, junior forward Paige Maling has been instrumental to the success of the Lumberjacks soccer team. This comes as no surprise to anyone that knows Maling, because for them, the answer is simple — she has been on the field nearly her entire life.
Maling started playing soccer when she was 3 years old. Her mother, a member of the Junior Olympic team, brought her daughter to the field at a young age, where Maling developed her skills.
Her father was a collegiate baseball player, and Maling had the support and guidance of athletic parents. She said having two upper-level athletes at home was a huge help at times.
“It’s definitely nice. My mother has a lot of advice to give,” Maling said. “My parents always have a lot of feedback ... and it helps a lot.”
Maling is no stranger to the lead role she stepped into this season. As a four-year starter and two-year captain at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Maling was a three-time offensive MVP and scored the most goals in her league during the 2014 and 2016 seasons. She acquired a multitude of accolades and four consecutive state championship titles.
Stepping into the realm of collegiate sports, Maling said one major component to her success derived from the positive atmosphere that surrounds her team.
“Since I was a freshman, I loved the players I worked with and the coaching staff,” Maling said. “We’ve always been a really close-knit group, and it’s just gotten stronger since I’ve got here.”
Maling’s bond with her teammates is something she holds close to her heart. She said the team has special chemistry and she enjoys training with its members.
Senior forward Mei-Te Coco said she regards Maling as an influential performance player.
“She’s made such an impact this year. She really stepped up in moments that we needed her,” Coco said. “She’s amazing.”
Women’s soccer head coach Kylie Louw said she first met Maling as an assistant coach under former long-time head coach Andre Luciano, who announced his retirement in 2019.
Stepping up to take on the head coaching position, Louw said she was grateful for Maling’s commitment to the team.
“Paige is so invested in the team, its performance and how she can contribute,” Louw said. “She does everything that she needs to do and more, and I think that’s what has made her so successful this year.”
Louw described Maling as a reliable key player for the team at any time. Her confidence makes her a dangerous asset in high-pressure situations on offense.
“She really believes in what we’re trying to do as a team here and helps get her teammates on board as well,” Louw said. “She was able to tell herself, ‘I need to score some goals,’ and having that confidence and freedom to do so is really something special.”
Louw said it is Maling’s mindset that stands out the most and the reason she has been so successful.
Her impact on the team is not something that goes unnoticed — she sets an example for her younger teammates. Maling helps to mold other confident shooters, such as sophomore defender Madison Montgomery, who now leads the team in goals scored with seven on the season.
“She’s not one to boast,” Louw said. “I think for a while, she was one of the silent leaders, where people go, ‘Wait, Paige works this hard, and these are her results? I want to do that, too.’”
Since the start of the season, Maling has stepped into a slightly more vocal leadership position, which Louw said has boosted her playing ability.
Maling’s performance this season did not go unnoticed. She was awarded a spot on the Big Sky Conference second team honors alongside Montgomery. Maling and Montgomery have a grasp on two of the top five scoring rankings in the conference, at No. 2 and No. 4. Maling is also No. 6 in the conference for total shots taken.
With Maling’s help, the Lumberjacks lead the conference in shots and are No. 3 in goals. The team clinched a spot in the Big Sky Conference tournament and entered the quarterfinals ranked No. 5.
The Lumberjacks played the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) Bears in the first round of the conference tournament. Both teams had a scoreless first period and scored one goal in the second half. UNC was able to defeat NAU in overtime with a goal from sophomore forward Lexi Pulley. This sent NAU home in the first round for the third year in a row.
With the loss, the Lumberjacks concluded the season 8-8-3 in Louw’s first year as head coach. The Lumberjacks will head back to the drawing board after losing multiple standout seniors this year, such as Coco, Tatum Heeres, Amanda Bennett and Carly George. Next year will be Maling’s senior year, and she will try to hone her skills to lead the team to a Big Sky Conference Championship.