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Freshmen phenoms fuel the attack and provide early success for Sun Devil soccer

Two freshmen have provided important offensive strides for the ASU women's soccer team at the beginning of the season

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ASU freshman midfield Ella Opkvitne (25) and freshman forward Savannah Maley (19) during a game against Kent State at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023 in Tempe. ASU tied 1-1.

After losing the players responsible for scoring over half of the goals last year, coach Graham Winkworth knew that some new players would need to step up and make an impact offensively. He didn't have to look far as two freshmen, Savannah Maley and Ella Opkvitne, have stepped up to start filling the hole left by last year's graduating players.

These two freshmen combined have scored three goals so far this season while tallying up five assists to fortify the attacking play that has helped ASU achieve a 6-1-3 record through their first 10 games of the season. 

So far this season, Maley has two goals, the third most on the team, and four assists, the most on the team, establishing her status as an important player already in her first collegiate season. Besides the goals, Maley has been a constant threat in the attacking third of the pitch, shooting the ball 17 times so far this season.

Maley hails from Rochester, Illinois, and had lots of success in her pre-collegiate career by earning multiple all-state recognitions as well as winning an ECNL conference championship. Even with these accolades, she did not expect to have as much playing time and success as she has had so far this year.

"I think it's a big team effort, honestly," Maley said when asked about her successful beginning to the season. "But I'm just happy to be playing with all these girls and I think that our successes are coming as more of a team effort."

Maley credits her experience as a holding striker – the same role she is playing for the ASU team – to her success in playing against girls who are bigger and stronger than anyone she has played against before. 

Though Maley may not have expected to have an early impact on the season, Winkworth had planned on it all along.

"We were always going to need some new players to come in and make impacts immediately," Winkworth said. "Sav (has) been fantastic at doing that." 

Maley made an immediate impact by scoring her first goal in the third game of the season against New Mexico State. She described her first goal as a surreal experience that was a long time coming. She had seven shots and three shots on goal during the season before one finally found the back of the net.

"I've been shooting and nothing's been going in the back of the net, so it's been frustrating. But once I just broke that curse of mine, it was much easier to gain confidence," Maley said. "Scoring my first (goal) here was very surreal, like in front of our home fans. That was a lot of fun, and (I was) pretty happy my family was here watching."

Opkvitne has found similar success in front of the goal. Despite only having one goal to show, she has been another constant headache for defenders. She has shot 13 times, six of those being on goal while playing in all 10 games this season.

Similar to Maley, Opkvitne did not expect to see the field much during her first year, as she had heard the commonality of not getting much playing time during a player's first two seasons on a college soccer team. Because of this, she is very glad she's had the opportunity to be able to play in her first year on the team.

Opkvitne grew up in the small town of Kragero, Norway. During her 12-year soccer career before playing in Tempe, Opkvitne had multiple injuries. She credits those injuries for a desire to push herself to play as often as she can, something that has truly helped her be successful in the first year of her collegiate career.  

Her hard work has paid off, as she scored for her first time as a Sun Devil in the final minutes of the game at New Mexico State. 

"It was really cool," Opkvitne said. "I was just really grateful because it's the (most fun) part of playing, to celebrate with your friends and teammates, and it made me really happy to see all my teammates being almost as happy as I am."

Despite Opkvitne's impact on the season so far, Winkworth expects her to continue to grow and says she has the potential to be an extremely talented player as her career progresses.

Both Maley and Opkvitne are looking forward to playing in Pac-12 games, even though they know how difficult they may be. They both said that they think ASU has the chance to beat some of the very good Pac-12 teams this season, such as reigning national champions UCLA along with the University of Stanford, the second-best team in the country. 

Even though the Pac-12 season will bring around very high-caliber teams, Winkworth does not expect this to impact the playing time of these two freshmen as he believes they have earned their playing time through their work in training and on the pitch. 

Both players have enjoyed their time in Tempe so far and they hope that their success continues for the rest of the season and throughout their future at ASU and beyond. 

Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Sadie Buggle and Caera Learmonth.

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