June 29, 2016

Partly sunny

Stepping forward

The sign of great players in any sport is not how many points they score or how many goals they put in the net.

It’s the impact they have on the game and the willingness to do whatever it takes for the good of the team.

That’s why, when Medina’s Paige Maxwell was asked to move from her center midfield position to sweeper by coach Scott Simpson, the senior did so for the good of the Bees.

Ultimately, her ability to adjust and still make her presence known earned her The Gazette’s MVP award in girls soccer.

“(Simpson) told me before the season (of the move) and I’m comfortable back there,” Maxwell said. “Plus, it was for the team. Initially it was difficult, but I had no problem doing it for the team.”

That impressed Simpson before Medina even played a game.

“I don’t think she was extremely thrilled about it,” Simpson said. “She’s played forward or midfield for a huge part of her life, then to do this.

“But overall, when you watched us play, you said that player made a difference.”

Maxwell just had to change the way she made a difference for the always-powerful Bees.

Instead of scoring goals and controlling the ball up front, the 5-foot-9 Maxwell controlled the game from the center back position.

Combine that strong soccer sense with her ability to lead her teammates and Simpson thought it was an easy decision to move the four-time All-Ohio selection.

“She organizes the team so well … it just made so much sense to put her in the best place to organize it,” the veteran coach said. “That impact on the game and that organization were huge. She was always encouraging people.”

That leadership helped Medina’s backline record 10 shutouts and allow just 10 goals in 17 games. The squad also was ranked in the state’s top 10 for the majority of the season and recorded wins over Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit and Solon.

And Maxwell knew what her role was from the first day of practice.

“Communication, keeping the team pumped and constructive criticism … that’s what my main purpose was,” she said. “I tried to keep most of the emotions in check.”

Not only was she able to keep the backline on the same page, Maxwell’s tall frame and athleticism made opposing forwards think twice about how they approached their attack.

“She is such a dominant soccer player and is an incredible athlete,” Massillon Jackson coach Frank Gagliardi said. “Whenever we played Medina, we felt we had to make two passes, one to get her out of place and the other to give our players space to find some area to work with.”

Added Simpson: “She’s a phenomenal athlete, if not the best at the school. She goes unchallenged against almost anybody.”

Don’t think because Maxwell was stuck in the back, she wasn’t going to score goals.

The 18-year-old, who earned a scholarship to Ohio State when playing up front for Medina, still was able to score the only way she knew how — with her athleticism.

When the Bees were faced with a corner kick or restart, Maxwell would come up and make teams pay.

“On corner kicks and set plays, things in the air like that are my strong suit and what I love to do,” she said.

Maxwell, who found the back of the net seven times and dished out five assists this fall, did get opportunities to play at her familiar center mid position when Medina needed a goal or a kick-start to its offense late in a match.

Combine that with the opportunities to score from the back and teams had to account for her wherever she was on the pitch.

Take the Bees’ Brunswick Division I Sectional final win over Cloverleaf, for example.

After the Colts took a 1-0 second-half lead, Maxwell was moved up to midfield. Shortly thereafter, she kicked home a cross from teammate Lauren Burke to tie the game and give the team a chance to win, which the Bees did in a shootout.

Her abilities have not only secured her a spot as a Buckeye next fall, they have given her an opportunity to play at the national level.

This January, Maxwell will go to Ventura, Calif., to play in front of national coaches. Her play has already placed her in a national pool ready for a call-up to practice with the national team.

“She understands certain aspects of the game — restarts, corner kicks — and she comes up front not being marked,” Simpson said. “Her ability to score that way was amazing. Players that are athletes can get to balls served in the air and they’re more dangerous to account for.

“That was part of the thinking. We had the best chance to win when she was back there.”

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