Amelia Malkin, a junior, tried to get noticed by coaches for years but never gave up.
Her right sock goes on before her left sock, always.
They are pulled as high as they can go; she won't roll them down until she steps onto the field for her game. It's her cleats next, the left one slipped on before the right one. Then she tapes her wrists and writes down things she doesn't want to forget, even during a soccer match: her parents names or the phrase "all out ball out," a reminder to never stop trying her best.
This is how Amelia Malkin prepares. Malkin, a Sarasota native, is a junior girls soccer player at IMG Academy. Malkin played her previous two seasons at Riverview High before making the switch to better her chances at playing for a high-level college. The leap of faith paid off in December when Malkin committed to Florida.
They're not just superstitions to Malkin. They make her feel comfortable. Malkin said she knows firsthand how players' mental states can affect their performance. You have to be completely in the game to play your best, Malkin said, not thinking about something a friend said to you earlier that day or any personal challenges you are facing. The familiar routines, accompanied by some rap music, make sure Malkin is always ready to do her best.
"You have to believe in yourself," Malkin said. "Otherwise you're not going to get anywhere."
Malkin is now a Gator, but for a while her fate was uncertain. Malkin, who started playing soccer at 5 years old, had been emailing colleges to gauge their interest since her freshman year, when she played for both Riverview and for travel team Braden River Soccer Club. She would send coaches her highlight reel and her team schedules and ask them to come watch her play. Nothing much came of the initiative. It's difficult to get the time of day with schools, Malkin said, if you don't start going to ID camps, or showcases, in your middle school years so coaches can get eyes on you live, something Malkin wishes her and her family realized sooner.
The silence from schools caused inevitable doubts.
"The worst is when you reach out and the response … it's blank," Malkin said. "You see other people getting responses and then you have a bad game or something. Then there's no response from a school. I think everyone would get down on themselves when that happens."
Instead of accepting her circumstances, Malkin talked with her family and decided to transfer to IMG Academy. Malkin had previously played with the Ascenders in a few camps on their invitation. She was familiar with the coaches and players. Ultimately, she said, the decision came down to college. Not only did IMG have the connections and clout to reach elite programs, but the Ascenders players all take the sport as seriously as Malkin does. It's not a game to them; it's their future.
"I love these girls," Malkin said. "Everyone is competitive all the time. Everyone wants to win. Having that as a team (attitude) gets you farther than being surrounded by people who don't always want to play."
At IMG Academy, the coaches come to the players. Malkin said Florida assistant coach Kyle Venter came to an Ascenders practice in the fall to watch two others players. Malkin took the opportunity to introduce herself. Malkin impressed during the practice. She and Venter stayed in contact. A few months later, she was a Gator. Malkin said the chance to play in a high-level conference like the Southern Conference, plus the school's strong academics and the relatively close distance to home, made Florida an easy choice. As happy as she is to be a Gator, Malkin is also grateful that the recruitment process — which she referred to as a "full-time job" — is now over.
Now Malkin is focused on making her own game better, as well as her teammates' games. Those things are one and the same in soccer, a sport where the right play is almost always the unselfish play. As Malkin said, a player can show off her heading ability by rocketing a long pass, but if it is inaccurate or doesn't help advance the ball, it's basically useless. That dynamic helps the players at IMG stay together even though plenty of them are trying to get the attention of colleges like Malkin did.
That is not to say Malkin doesn't stand out. Quite the opposite. In her own words, it's Malkin's speed in everything she does that separates her from other players.
"It's how quick I can turn and get the ball off my foot," Malkin said. "Or how I will run as fast as I can to dribble down the line and send the ball into the box. I have quickness and I can be the 'target player' or the center forward."
Unlike other IMG Academy programs, the boys and girls soccer teams play a club schedule. It's done for competitive reasons, ensuring that their players always face the best competition possible. For many years, Malkin said, Florida United has been considered one of — if not the — top programs in the state. IMG played United this season, a game Malkin viewed as a chance to prove herself against the best. She was determined to score on them. Four minutes into the game, Malkin said, she took a pass and dribbled 18 yards into the box before firing a shot past the United goalkeeper. IMG would lose the game, but the goal was a statement that Malkin belonged in the spotlight.
It's one of her favorite soccer memories, one that she thinks she will remember forever — even as she makes new ones as a Gator in a few years.
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