When U.S. Soccer legend Brandi Chastain handed over Gatorade’s National Girls Soccer Player of the Year trophy to high school junior Mallory Pugh this morning, it seemed more like passing the torch than an award ceremony. The hero of Team USA ‘s first FIFA World Cup win, Chastain made a surprise visit to the Mountain Vista (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) campus to anoint Pugh as the new face of American soccer.
“I can’t imagine having won this award,” said Pugh, 17, a UCLA commit. “I’m just so flustered and honored. It’s going to take a long time for this to sink in.”
The 5-foot-5 attacking midfielder led the Golden Eagles to a 16-3 record and the Class 5A state semifinals. Pugh scored 24 goals and passed for 12 assists this season. A member of the U.S. Soccer Under-20 Women’s National Team, Pugh was the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s 2014 Youth National Player of the Year for club soccer. She is rated as the No. 1 recruit in the nation for the Class of 2016 by TopDrawerSoccer.com.
“If she stays on this path, there’s no doubt we’ll see her on the full national team,” said Chastain, 46, who clinched the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup title with a penalty kick against China. “She’s got the talent, the humility and the composure to be an impact player. Ten years ago, I would have stood here and wondered what it must be like for her to win. Now, I’m thinking how wonderful it must be as a parent to see your child recognized for everything this award stands for.”
Pugh has maintained a 3.68 GPA in the classroom. She has volunteered locally as part of multiple community-service initiatives to benefit pediatric care at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Pugh has also donated her time to the Panther Pantry, which serves needy families in Douglas County, as well as the Tennyson Center for Children, a home for abused youth. In addition, she has worked with the US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer program serving young athletes with disabilities.
“Mallory has the ability to be the best player in the country at any position on the field,” says Sheldon Shealer, High School Senior Editor for TopDrawerSoccer.com. “She understands the exact need at certain moments of the game, either slowing it down, speeding it up, sitting, pressing or setting up teammates. But what impresses me most is her commitment. Here’s a girl with significant national team and club obligations, yet she made the time to be an important contributor to her high school team, factoring in nearly half [its] goals.”
The leading scorer for the U.S. U-17 National Team during CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in 2013, Pugh recorded a milestone last summer at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, becoming the youngest American player to participate in the women’s world youth championship since FIFA raised the age limit to 20 in 2006. She played 300 minutes for a U-20 squad that reached the tournament quarterfinals before falling to North Korea on penalty kicks.
Pugh owns career totals of 47 goals and 23 assists in three high school seasons, and Mountain Vista has amassed a 32-0 record with her in the lineup. She helped her squad to a Class 5A state title as a sophomore and is a sure-fire three-time All-State selection. Pugh led her group-winning Real Colorado U-16 club team in goals and assists in qualifying for the 2014 Elite Clubs National League Champions League finals. She was unable to participate in that tournament due to U-20 National Team commitments.
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field. Pugh is now a finalist for the Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
Pugh becomes the eighth Colorado prep athlete to win Gatorade national honors in any sport, and the third in women’s soccer. She is only the fourth prep player in the 30-year history of the program to win national girls soccer honors as a non-senior. The U.S. Women’s National Team roster for this summer’s FIFA World Cup boasts 11 former Gatorade State Player of the Year winners, including former FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Abby Wambach, as well as five former national winners, including two-time Olympic gold medalist Lauren Holiday (née Cheney) and three-time Olympic gold medalist Heather O’Reilly.
California, with 63, has produced the most Gatorade national winners across the program’s 12 sports, followed by Texas (29), Florida (21), Illinois (15) and Indiana (13).