Movies are among Malia Berkely’s interests off the soccer pitch.
One recent release that intrigued the Badin junior was “Lucy,” about a woman who is able to reach – and unleash on any target of her choice – 100 percent of her brain power.
“That was really interesting,” Berkely said. “I think that would be so cool.”
Berkely, 16, also wonders what would happen if she was able to tap into 100 percent of her soccer talent. She should already have a pretty good idea.
The 5-foot-8 midfielder, who also plays for the Fairfield Optimist Soccer Club, is currently ranked as the 17th-best player in the nation in her age group, according to topdrawersoccer.com. She traveled with the Olympic Development Program Great Lakes Region under-17 team to Costa Rica in February for an international tournament, during which she led her team in scoring with five goals and an assist in three games, all shutout wins.
Berkely and the Rams opened defense of the Division III state championship they won last season with a 4-2 win over Edgewood on Monday. Berkely, who led the Rams in scoring with 20 goals and 17 assists last season, scored two goals and added an assist in the win.
Soccer is as much a part of Berkely’s DNA as hair color. Her father, Badin coach Todd Berkely, learned the game from his father, Martin, starting as a child in San Diego.
“He took away the oblong Nerf football I’d been playing with, gave me a soccer ball and said, ‘This football is your football,'” recalled Todd, who moved with his family in the mid-1970s to Cincinnati, where he went to Moeller. “‘This is what we do.’
“When we had Malia, she gravitated to is almost instantly. It was like osmosis.”
Todd and his wife, Nicole, started Malia in a recreational league at the Blue Ash YMCA when she was 4.
“The first game she played over there, she wasn’t used to other kids who could take the ball away, but that instant competitive spirit was born,” Todd recalled. “She became completely different at that point. The first thing she did was pout and cry. By the second game, she was taking every ball away.”
Malia can play effectively all over the field, Todd says.
“She swears up and down that she has ninja skills in goal,” he added with a laugh.
She moved on to select soccer and developed quickly enough to start earning by age 12 invitations to national camps all over the country, where she was drawing the attention of college coaches by the time she was in the eighth grade. She was so interested in UCLA that she initiated contact with Bruins coaches, Todd said, but her attention was diverted after an informal visit to Florida State. The Seminole coaches closed the deal during a second visit, and she made a verbal commitment in March.
“It was like a family atmosphere,” said Malia, who plans to major in medicine or engineering. “It felt like a second home.”
Family is important to Malia. She considers Badin to be another family, a warm feeling that only grew last summer when many of here teammates followed her up to an ODP camp at Ohio State just to root for her. The other campers noticed.
“One of them said, ‘Are those your teammates?'” Malia said. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ She was surprised. She said, ‘My high school teammates hate me.’ It really surprised me. My high school team is super close.”
Added Todd, “That was part of the bonding process that helped us go so far last fall.”
It’s no surprise then that Malia enjoys spending time with her own family, taking 13-year-old sister, Alexis, and 9-year-old brother, Ty, with her to Kings Island, for which she has a Gold Pass. She and Todd still indulge in backyard skills games that he admits sometimes keep dinner waiting.
She knows, as highly ranked as she already is, there’s always room for improvement.
“Being ranked that high gives me motivation,” said Malia, who has her sights set on playing for the U.S. Women’s National Team, like her hero, the iconic Mia Hamm. “I have a lot of confidence that I can be really good, and seeing the stats makes me want to work 20 times harder to get further up. I want my name to be well-known.”
Some would say it already is.