Commentary

Miller takes advantage of home field

Updated: November 25, 2008, 5:31 PM ET
By David Auguste | ESPNRISE.com

Hampton soccer star Mallory Schaffer doesn't need any pre-game music to get fired up. She doesn't adhere to many superstitions and isn't into flashy goal celebrations.

[+] EnlargeMallory Shaffer
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images for ESPN Rise MagazineMallory Schaffer was named Player of the Year by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

No, the only fuel she's ever needed for her promising career was a ball, her family and her unique home field.

Schaffer Field, as it's known around town, is a near-regulation soccer layout located in the family's frontyard that served as a personal training ground for Mallory, her brother and her two sisters as they grew up. Sure, if you want to nitpick, a lone tree does stand inbounds. But the field has still played host to countless after-school pick-up games and witnessed its fair share of sibling rivalry over the years. At one point it even doubled as a practice location for one of Mallory's club teams.

The field is relatively quiet these days, as Mallory is the last of her siblings living at home. But the legacy of Schaffer Field has been evident during each of Hampton's games this fall as Mallory carried on the family tradition for one last season.

The 5-foot-8 senior midfielder is one of the state's most dangerous players, racking up 26 goals as a junior to lead the team to a sectional title. She earned Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Player of the Year honors last fall and was named to the NSCAA/adidas All-East Region team, a squad that includes players from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware.

But make no mistake, the William & Mary recruit attributes much of her success to the solid foundation created inside -- and in front of -- her home.

"My brother and sisters helped me with the high school situation," Mallory says. "They paved the way and showed me the rigors of making a high school team. My parents always played a huge role in my life. They are my heroes."

It was on her family's field that Mallory, as a 3-year-old, began playing with her sisters as they emulated the moves of the talented Hampton teams of the mid-'90s.

"They would go out and practice like they were members of the team," says Mallory's father, Ted. "They idolized those girls."

The competition on Schaffer Field got more intense as the siblings grew older, but the result of all the blood, sweat and tears was a family of soccer players who are now the ones revered by Hampton youngsters. Mallory's older brother, Matthew, captained the boys' team as a midfielder. Her sisters, Melanie and Monica, both starred for the girls' squad before embarking on college careers, Melanie at James Madison and Monica at Allegheny.

In addition to her older sisters, one player Mallory took cues from growing up was Diane Vitunic, a 1996 Hampton grad who long held the school's career goal-scoring record with 69. That mark was in jeopardy this fall, however, as Mallory entered the season well within striking distance thanks to her three-year total of 52 goals.

Schaffer Favorites


TV Show: Anything on The Food Network
Movie: "Pride and Prejudice"
Actor: Tom Hanks
Actress: Sandra Bullock


"My coach showed me a couple of films of her, and I always admired how she played," Mallory says. "It would mean a whole lot, and I would be excited to break her record."

Even though Schaffer Field no longer bustles with activity like it once did, Mallory still puts it to good use on occasion. When Melanie was home from college, the two sometimes worked out on the field together using James Madison's offseason fitness plan. Mallory also trains year-round with her father, focusing on maintaining the speed and stamina necessary to excel as a midfielder.

The result of this dedication is a model athlete and polished scorer who consistently burns defenders and can finish with either foot. Mallory also specializes in hitting the back of the net with ferocious headers, an ability she has crafted with the aid of Hampton head coach Frank Christy.

"She has a hard edge to her  a competitive edge," Christy says. "She's an all-around super kid, and her family brought her up in a nice way."

That competitive spirit helped Mallory earn significant varsity playing time at Hampton as a freshman. But it was a playoff showdown against rival Peters Township as a sophomore that stands out in her coach's mind as her defining moment to date. Mallory contributed a goal in the momentous 2-1 win and then displayed her versatility by playing staunch defense to preserve the victory.

Mallory was already well on her way to establishing herself as a varsity stalwart at that point. She contributed eight goals and two assists as a freshman before busting out for 18 goals and four assists as a sophomore. She added six assists last fall in addition to her 26 goals.

Her efforts on the field have maintained the Schaffer family trend of spectacular play at Hampton.

"She turned out to be the best athlete in the whole family," says Christy, who coached all three sisters in his 19-year tenure.

In addition to playing a starring role for Hampton, Mallory also lines up for the Beadling Soccer Club and has participated in the Olympic Development Program. In fact, she traveled with her U-17 regional ODP team to a tournament in Brazil last spring.

It wasn't all that hard to predict Mallory would have this type of soccer success. Before entering the high school ranks, she excelled while playing on a boys' club team.

"I think it really helped improve my speed of play," she says. "I always had to play a step quicker."

A skill that undoubtedly helped her against the fierce competitors back home at Schaffer Field as well.

David Auguste covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.

• ESPN.com NFL editor
• Previously covered recruiting for ESPNHS
• Graduate of Northeastern University