Kaitlyn Maloney was a leading goal scorer for the LHS field hockey team. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

Kaitlyn Maloney blossomed into the leading goal scorer for Lawrence High’s girls’ soccer team this season, and part of the reason is a skill that no one seems to realize she has.

“She kind of likes to create her own opportunities by beating people down the side,” coach Emily Palombo said. “She’s deceptively fast, you don’t really realize how quick she is, so that helps her.” How deceptive?

Even her former backyard training partner had trouble noticing it.

“My brother (Patrick) actually came to my Senior Night, he hadn’t come to a game for a while because he had his own games (with the LHS JV),” Kaitlyn said. “So he came to the game and said to me ‘I didn’t realize you were that fast.’ I said ‘Yeah, you hadn’t seen a game in a while.’”

So, she wasn’t that fast when the two battled each other one-on-one at their house?

“I guess I got faster,” Maloney said with a laugh. “Definitely my speed and getting by a defender helps. It’s obviously easier when you have the speed and also the foot skills. I definitely got faster over my high school career.”

It paid off handsomely this season. For example, the senior had doubled her single-season goal total 14 games into the campaign. After collecting five goals and four assists last year, Maloney had 10 goals and one assist entering the Cardinals regular-season finale.

While four of her goals as a junior came against two of the Colonial Valley Conference’s lower level teams, her fifth was the game-winner in a 1-0 victory over a talented Steinert team.

In the Cardinals nine wins last year, Maloney had either a goal or assist in six of them. It’s more of the same this year, as Maloney had goals in four of Lawrence’s first six victories. The team ended up with a 9-9-2 record, bowing out in the first round of the state tournament with a 2-1 loss against Colts Neck on Oct. 28. Maloney scored the lone goal in the game.

Maloney feels she should have had more goals last year, but the truth of the matter is she was serving as more of playmaker for 13-goal scorer Sarah Berardi. With Berardi having graduated, Maloney has stepped filled the void.

“I definitely could have scored a ton more goals,” she said. “But Sarah had a ton of goals last year, and I liked assisting too. So I was looking to pass to her instead of trying to find a shot for myself. And I also felt like my confidence boosted this year. My team and coach helped me a lot.”

Maloney began playing soccer for Lawrence rec in kindergarten and by 2nd grade was playing on the Hamnett travel team. She eventually moved to Hamilton when her team split up, and she made the Cardinals varsity by her sophomore year.

Evidently, Maloney, Patrick and their cousin are the family’s first generation of soccer players.

“Neither of my parents played soccer,” she said. “I guess I just had a love for it at a very young age and I got my brother into it at a very young. It’s in the genes I guess, but not my parents. My cousin Molly played soccer too but my uncle didn’t play.”

The sport became painful to play by her sophomore year due to a health issue termed Osteochondroma. In simple terms, it was a bone growth going the wrong way in her left leg.

“People called it my third knee because it looked like I had a third knee,” Maloney said. “I didn’t have to get surgery, but it was so bad when I got hit in it that it was just better for me to get it done. Basically, they had to open up my leg and shave the bone down.”

She got surgery in December of her sophomore year and, while she did not miss any soccer, she wasn’t able to play lacrosse that year, which is her second sport. Unfortunately, it put a permanent end to her basketball career.

But soccer is Kaitlyn’s main sport, which she showed last year by playing both midfield and forward, which she also does this year.

“I move her from outside mid to forward every game,” Palombo said. “I try to put her in spots where she’s gonna be the most dangerous. It just varies as the game goes on. She’ll start at outside mid, I’ll give her quick break at forward, but it depends on the game. If we’re getting more opportunities on the outside, then I’m gonna throw her on the outside, wherever I think she’s gonna get the ball the most. She likes forward the most but she’s been willing to work with me when it comes to that.”

Maloney was a midfielder coming up through travel soccer but was placed in an entirely new position as a freshman when she played sweeper for the Cardinals JV team.

“My freshman year we didn’t have that many girls, we didn’t have any subs,” she said. “We needed someone in the back. I realized I was good at defending, so I did that for the team. Anything to help my team, I’ll do.”

Experiencing a defender’s mindset actually helped Malone when she moved back to an attacking role.

“I definitely think it helped, just by seeing how the sweeper and defenders play, how to get around them,” she said. “And just thinking of myself, how I defended then helps me know how they would try to defend me.”

Maloney’s flexibility makes her a valuable commodity to the Cardinals, and is something that her coach takes advantage of.

“She’s really versatile,” Palombo said. “I can pretty much put her anywhere on the field, she’ll make an impact. She can play defense, she can play forward, she can play outside mid. She’d probably do well at center mid. She can go anywhere and does a great job.”

Her main job this year has been finding the back of the net, a role that she has handled well.

“She has good patience on the ball, good vision and she can finish,” Palombo said. “She likes to create her own shot, but she also sees the field well, she can be set up for through balls. She has a good hard shot, she keeps it low, she just focuses when she’s finishing. Kaitlyn’s been able to find those opportunities and makes sure she’s plugging away when she gets the chance to.”

After serving as a playmaker last year, Maloney has been the beneficiary of her teammates’ help this year as Lauren Edgar, Mackenzie Esposito and Katie Ossowski have provided Kaitlyn with scoring chances. Esposito, just a sophomore, leads the team with seven assists despite missing several games with injury, and also takes the Cards corner kicks (Maloney took them when she was hurt and actually scored a goal on one). Edgar has provided a complementary scorer with seven goals, and Ossowski has three assists.

“I feel like as captain, I have a lot more confidence in myself and the girls support me a lot this year,” Maloney said. “Not that they didn’t last year. It just seems like we’re very close as a team overall. I like to call them a family.”

As for her actual family, the Maloneys are supporting Kaitlyn in her quest for a Girl Scout Gold award as they are training a seeing eye dog named Rosalee. It is a labor of love but the downside is they will have to give the dog up in the winter and are not allowed to meet the person it will be guiding, or ever see the dog again.

“It’s sad,” she said, “but it’s for a good cause.”

Maloney’s next big cause is going to college. She is a member of Lawrence’s National Honor Society with a 3.9 grade point average and has applied to numerous New Jersey schools, but her top choices are James Madison and Penn State.

Hopefully, her academic qualities will be more noticeable to those schools than her speed is to her opponents and her brother.