Alumni Today: Marley Canales (‘16), plays for UCLA soccer team

The scoreboard read 3-3.

Marley Canales (’16) heard her name called over the speaker, and nervously lined herself in position for her  penalty kick, preparing for her potential game-winning goal in the National Championship women’s soccer semi-finals against Duke.

The stadium was dead silent. Her family was watching in the stands, her school was watching her back home. All eyes were on her. But when the moment came for her kick, her nerves cleared and she knew she was ready. She kicked, the ball soared to the top right corner of the goal, just out of the goalie’s reach. And the ball hit the back of the net.

The stadium went wild. Her teammates cheered and ran towards her and she was met with the excited embrace of her team.

“I knew I was going to be the 5th shooter, which is usually the game-deciding penalty kick,” Canales said.  “[Scoring the goal] was truly one of my proudest moments and a memory that I will never forget.”

It’s been a long road for the Bruins this season. Throughout the season, the Bruins took some tough losses, but overcame them as a team to ultimately get as far as they did. They came into the semi-finals as the No.2 seed (19:2:2) versus No. 1 seed (23-2-0) Duke, which took place on Friday, Dec 1. in Orlando, Florida.

Canales herself, had to adjust to the lifestyle of collegiate soccer, which was arduous.

“From adjusting to the college style of soccer and competing with some of the best players in the nation, there were many hardships,” she said.

In spite of the obstacles she faced throughout the season, Canales triumphed. She contributed to her team’s successes, and was key player in their game against Duke, and aiding in the road to their title game against Stanford.

Having committed to UCLA as a sophomore in high school, Canales has been a dedicated soccer player her entire life. In high school, she played with national teams and represented the USA with the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup team. This drive to succeed has carried over to the collegiate level at UCLA as well.

Before she gets to class on most days, Canales has already gone to study film, training, weight-lifting and taken a quick shower.  Canales has had to sacrifice sleep and rid herself of distractions to continue to dedicate herself to soccer.

“I have learned that you truly have to have a love for your sport to play at this level [because] the days can be absolutely draining,” Canales said. “There were many times throughout the season that tested my love for the game and my mental toughness.”

Even so, Canales pushed on. She and her team worked and poured themselves into achieving one goal: National Championships. Upon their Duke upset, her team was one step closer to achieving that goal.

“The feeling was indescribable,” Canales said. “I went through a lot of ups and downs throughout the season and to have all of that pressure come down to me, I knew I had to own the moment.”

And owning the moment is exactly what she did.

Going into the semifinals against Duke, her team knew it was going to be a close game, and a difficult win to pull out. The two teams have similar playing styles and are well-matched. In fact, the teams were so well-matched that their game ended in a scoreless draw after 90 minutes of play and two 10-minute overtimes. The two teams were forced to go into a penalty kick shootout to determine the winner of the game.

Throughout the season, Canales has been practicing penalty kicks in preparation. Knowing the amount of work she had put into training this season made scoring the game-winning goal for her team even sweeter.

“Hugging my teammates after I scored along with our coaching staff and our families, and getting the freezing ice water dumped on me was unforgettable.” Canales said.

Still, the journey was not over for her and her team yet. Fired up from their win against Duke, the UCLA team went into their championship game against Stanford with fierceness.

During the regular season, UCLA lost 1-0 to the Cardinal. Because of this, UCLA  was even more determined to win.

“The Stanford team that we played is a very good team,” Canales said. “They are smart, athletic and unselfish. We knew we wanted the game back that we played against them in the Pac-12, and we knew it was going to be a battle.”

A battle was exactly what it was. In the first half, UCLA trailed 2-0. However, they came back with a vengeance during the second half, and evened the score at 2.

Stanford though, took the lead 3-2, coming back with a fire that could not be contained by UCLA.

They fought a hard battle, but lost.

Despite their loss, the Bruins had one of their best seasons. They were a young team during their 2016-2017 season, but this season they have come back more mature, and have improved technically.

“It’s always tough to get that far and not win, but our team continually rose to the occasion throughout the season and we became stronger than we ever have been,” Canales said. “We will be ready for next season and the next time we play them.”

Canales harbors great pride to be able to walk onto the beautiful UCLA field every day, wear the UCLA jersey, and represent UCLA with her team. In fact through this program, Canales has found a family with the girls she plays with.

“I have met some of the most hardworking, motivated girls on this team; some of my favorite memories are being dead tired after training and lift and grinding out homework or preparing for test with my teammates,” she said. “This is a special group of girls.”

Most of all, Canales is grateful for the chance to further her soccer career, and continue to pursue the sport that she loves.

“It is incredibly humbling, and I know how hard I have worked to get here,” Canales said. “I am so excited for the future and to see where I can take my soccer career.”