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O’Brien: Spartans’ secret weapon

Superior High School’s Malley O’Brien poses for a portrait during practice at Superior Middle School on Monday. The University of Wisconsin recruit has 12 goals in four games. (Jed Carlson/

The Superior High School girls soccer team has a future Badger on its roster this year, but so far opponents have seemed not to notice.

For the Spartans, that oversight has helped them to a 3-1 start with 20 goals in four games.

Malley O’Brien, who’s taken over at center midfielder, has accounted for 12 of those goals.

“Since I haven’t played high school (soccer), I don’t think anyone knows who I am yet,” O’Brien said.

The junior is playing for the Spartans for the first time this season. During her first two high school seasons, O’Brien played in the Olympic Development Program and for Minnesota Thunder Academy in Minneapolis.

She has traveled the United States playing soccer, and at the collegiate level, O’Brien has been well-known for years.

She began drawing interest from college coaches when she was just 14 years old. A number of Division I schools reached out to her, and in August O’Brien gave a verbal commitment to the University of Wisconsin women’s soccer program.

At the time of her announcement, O’Brien also made the decision to play for the Spartans this season.

In Superior’s four games, O’Brien has scored with ease.

Last week alone she had nine goals, scoring five times in Superior’s 7-4 win over Baldwin-Woodville and four times the next day in Superior’s 7-0 win over Barron.

Len Albrecht, in his fourth year as head coach of the Spartans, said he’s never seen a Superior player deliver the kind of numbers O’Brien has produced so far.

“Never in Superior, but I’ve watched college players that could play like that,” he said.

Opponents have overlooked O’Brien so far — because her name had never appeared at the high school level — but Albrecht doesn’t expect that good luck to last much longer.

“I’m sure that teams will be scheming and trying to figure out ways to shut her down,” he said. “And we’ll have to come up with ways to counteract that.”

Albrecht said the team is already working on schemes of its own, but those plans have been hindered by the spring weather.

Superior has held every practice indoors so far this season.

“There’s things I want to practice more when we can get outside and have more room,” Albrecht said. “It’s hard to do a lot of the drills I want to do inside.”

Some adjustments, however, have come easily for the team.

Albrecht said O’Brien meshed with the returning players very quickly. Helping was the fact that O’Brien had played with some of her Spartan teammates in the past.

The junior said she played with many of the seniors on recreational teams in the past, and she played with senior Bridget Manion and junior Rachel Dixon in the Gitchi Gummi Soccer Club.

“It was fun to get back in with the people that I hadn’t played with for a while,” O’Brien said. “It was hard at first to get used to playing with everyone, but it was a lot easier once I got the hang of it and figured out how everyone plays.”

Some of her teammates even took extra steps to help O’Brien with the transition. Manion, for example, volunteered to move to forward so O’Brien could take over at center midfield.

“I wasn’t really there by choice,” Manion said. “When I was a freshman I was willing to go anywhere, so he put me in left center mid. When I saw the chance (this year), I asked to be forward.”

Manion said she’s enjoyed making the switch to forward this year, but her playing style still reflects her center midfielder tendencies.

If teams begin to focus on O’Brien, Manion will be among the players to take advantage.

Sophomore Amber Welsh, at left forward, is another player to watch.

“I thought that was going to be a big gap for us when Amber Holt left, but Amber Welsh is just going to slide right in,” Albrecht said. “She’s got a very strong left foot.”

Among the midfielders, O’Brien and Dixon have already teamed up to do extra damage, and Manion said she expects to see that continue.

“Malley is usually open, so when she gets the ball she can cross it,” Manion said. “She makes really good crosses over to Rachel Dixon, who then crosses it in front of the goal, and that give us a lot of opportunities.”

The only thing not going well for the Spartans, Manion said, is their schedule.

The Spartans were supposed to play four games this week, including their home opener today. Three of those games were postponed, and Superior’s next chance at hosting a home game does not come until Thursday. After that, the Spartans’ next scheduled home game is May 15.

“We’re pretty anxious to get outside,” Manion said.