There were times when Malia Miller went home flustered, an understandable outcome of playing soccer against taller and stronger boys.
She loved the game though, and understood playing against tough competition would serve her well in the future. By playing with her older brother and his friends, Miller, who stands just 5 feet, 2 inches, would raise her game.
“I knew what I was getting myself into,” Miller, 18, said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be the best if I played with them but it pushed me to be better.”
Miller’s competitive drive paid off in a big way on Thursday. The recent Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé graduate was named the Gatorade Alaska Girls Soccer Player of the Year, becoming just the third JDHS girls soccer player to receive the honor. Former Crimson Bears Laura Flynn and Jessy Post won the award in 2004 and 2006, respectively.
“I wasn’t completely sure I was going to get it this year,” Miller said. “I didn’t get it last year, and it was a little discouraging. I know there’s a lot of great athletes everywhere throughout Alaska so it was pretty cool to hear they gave it to me.”
The vast majority of past award winners — including the past four — hail from Anchorage, a detail that wasn’t lost on Miller.
“I’m happy that I get to bring it home to Juneau,” she said.
Miller became Alaska girls prep soccer’s all-time leader in career and single-season goals during her senior campaign, which ended late last month with another Division II state championship. Miller saved her best season for last, recording 43 goals and 16 assists. Miller had an eye-popping 105 career goals.
“She certainly had a special season,” JDHS coach Matt Dusenberry said.
The Crimson Bears’ assist leader this season, Miller found her teammates just as well as the back of the net.
“I think it had to do with the talent that we have now,” Miller said. “Our freshman, Blake Plummer on the wing, she was doing a really good job cutting in and giving me those windows for me to pass to her. I think the difference between this last season and previous seasons is just the amount of talent that we have and players that want to work hard and want to play.”
In a press release, John Newell, the head coach of the Thunder Mountain girls soccer team, called Miller, “a natural-born, goal-scoring machine.”
“I’ve been coaching high school soccer since the 1990s and have never seen a player with her all-around abilities,” Newell said. “She’s the type of player who just can’t be stopped.”
The Gatorade Player of the Year program awards just over 600 athletes annually, and selects its winners based on both athletic and academic excellence. The award comes with a $1,000 grant for a local or national youth sports organization of the athlete’s choosing. Miller plans to give hers to the Juneau Soccer Club, where her competitive play was first honed around the age of 10.
Gatorade winners are selected from all 50 states plus Washington D.C. in football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball and boys and girls track and field.
Gatorade names a national player of the year in all 12 sports, and also a high school athlete of the year for boys and girls.
Miller will play at Bellevue College in Washington next season.