By Rick Assad
It’s a given that if you play soccer at any level, you’re going to run. Make that run a lot.
Gabby Morales played center back on a stifling defense for three and a half years at Burroughs High and now for Pasadena City College, knows all about running.
And by running, Morales, a three-year captain for the Bears, was a key member on a team that was perennially in the Pacific League hunt after carving out a 36-8-6 record across her nearly four seasons on the varsity.
“I approached defense by understanding I am the eyes for a lot of my teammates since I am able to see so much of the field,” she explained of her role. “I am the communicator and facilitator from the back and hold myself accountable to ensure everyone is on the same page. I have learned that defense does not necessarily get credit for the wins, but I approach it in a way that without defense, wins don’t happen.”
Morales is correct in her assessment of how valuable defense is, regardless of the sport.
Soccer is exciting, but vastly different from so many other sports because generally it isn’t high scoring.
“There are many things about soccer that appeal to me. I’ve loved the game since I was four. I enjoy representing my school. Being part of a team is big for me. The competition and physicality of soccer and being able to stay fit doing something I love,” said Morales, a four-year Student-Athlete Award winner of the beautiful game. “I definitely enjoyed playing four years of soccer at Burroughs. I loved the competition and getting to play against and with some of my friends.”
Morales, a three-year varsity starter who vaulted to the varsity late during her freshman season and just finished her initial season at Pasadena City College, sees the difference between high school and college soccer.
“One of the biggest differences between high school and college soccer is that the competition level is more balanced,” she offered. “The training in college is definitely more intense and since I am not playing club soccer, I have to work out more independently in addition to weight training and really focusing on my nutrition.”
Every player, regardless of the athletic endeavor, brings something unique to the table. Morales spoke about what she’s able to offer.
“I believe my biggest asset is my versatility,” she said. “While a majority of my high school years were defense focused, in college we have discovered I actually like to do sprints up and down the field, and I have the most fun when I’m constantly running around. I have actually started playing the wings and more of a midfield position as well.”
There are three strong teams in the league, and they are Burroughs, Arcadia and Crescenta Valley.
Morales’ presence helped solidify a squad that went 51-17-7 in all matches.
“I believe Burroughs’ program is strong because of the coaches’ system of playing out of the back,” she said. “Instead of just trying to send long balls to the forwards for 80 minutes, we actually would make sure we were building the plays up the field starting from our keeper. Also, a lot of the girls who play for the program have been playing soccer with AYSO and club for many years.”
Coincidentally two of the best and biggest matches Morales was involved in were against the Falcons and the Apaches.
“I’d say the biggest high school matches I played in were for sure against CV and Arcadia,” she said. “My senior year, we beat Arcadia at home [2-1] which was a huge win for us.”
The Bears have been a top-tier program for many years under Coach Brady Riggs, but losses were also present.
“I learned how to take personal or team losses as lessons to build upon and use in the next game,” said Morales, who graduated from the NAF certified medical academy. “I also learned that who you are or where you play on the team (starter, bench, senior or freshmen) plays a huge role in the team’s success.”
Riggs appreciated everything that Morales brought to the program.
“Gabby was a captain of the program for three years and while she was a fantastic player and an All-CIF Southern Section performer, she was a much better person and leader,” he said. “I know she will have success in everything she does in her life.”
Knowing a key match was on the horizon could be nerve-wracking and it isn’t easy to push aside.
“Generally, I get pretty intense pre-game anxiety. What helps me overcome that and gets me in the zone is listening to loud music in the locker room with my teammates,” said Morales, who was tabbed All-CIF first team. “We all sing and dance and have a good time and it really takes my focus off of the nerves.”
Though high school is over and one year of college is under her belt, Morales keeps those memories close to her.
“Becoming a varsity captain as a sophomore was definitely a highlight for me. Winning the league that year was also a huge highlight,” she said. “All of my Burroughs soccer experience was definitely unforgettable and it’s hard to pinpoint specific instances, but I think my favorite memory would be that I helped lead my team to the CIF Division IV quarterfinals in my senior year [8-3 overall and 6-2 in league] and for the first time in Burroughs history, and even though we lost that game [4-0 against San Dimas], it was super exciting to be a part of that experience during such crazy times.”