Favorite player: Mallory Pugh
Favorite team: UNC Women’s Lacrosse
Favorite memory competing in sports: Scoring my 50th goal in the last game of the lacrosse season freshman year.
Most embarrassing moment competing in sports: Me playing basketball my freshman year. It just wasn’t my thing.
Music: Post Malone, Travis Scott, Luke Combs
Future plans: Attend a four-year college and major in exercise science. Then attend to years of grad school to become a PA.
Favorite motto: “Don’t count the days, make the days count.”
One goal before turning 30: Visit Europe!
One thing people don’t know about me: I can say the yoshi voice perfectly
By Mary Jane Souder
Paige Malpezzi has always had a love affair with sports. The Lower Moreland senior – like many youngsters - grew up with the dream of one day playing soccer for the U.S. Women’s National Team.
“I started with micros soccer when I was three, and I fell in love with it,” Malpezzi said. “I was obsessed with it. My room was full of soccer decorations.
“I used to be soccer, soccer, soccer, but when I got to high school, I kind of transferred over to – do I like lacrosse better, do I like soccer better? I think lacrosse is my top sport now.”
That’s hardly surprising since Malpezzi was something of a star the moment she stepped onto the lacrosse field for the Lions, scoring 50 goals during a dazzling freshman season. Big things were in store for the talented rookie, who entered her sophomore season with the goal of reaching the 100-goal milestone.
Malpezzi scored 20 goals in the first four games of her sophomore year when the unthinkable happened.
“I’m cradling the ball running down the field and I do a quick cut,” she said. “I just fell to the ground, and right when I did it, I knew it was an ACL again.”
‘Again’ is the key word. It turns out Malpezzi tore the ACL in her right knee playing soccer in seventh grade. This time it was her left.
“On the field, I was so mad, more mad than sad,” she said. “I was like, ‘I have to go through this whole process again. I’m going to miss so much,’ but then I kind of accepted it. I was like, ‘Okay, time to work through it and get past it.’”
That immediate acceptance of what she could not change speaks volumes about the Lower Moreland senior. Long gone was Malpezzi’s childhood dream of playing for the women’s national soccer team, but also gone was the dream of pursuing lacrosse at the highest level.
“When she tore her ACL sophomore year, it was heartbreaking because I’d known she hurt it in middle school before I knew her,” LM lacrosse coach Jessica Ashenbrenner said. “On the field, she wasn’t even hysterical. It was more like knowing what she was going to deal with down the road because she had already been through it.”
If missing her sophomore lacrosse season wasn’t enough, Malpezzi – scheduled to return to the lineup – saw her junior season wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was like ‘Are you kidding me?’” Ashenbrenner said. “All these things going against her, but she just has a good attitude despite all of that.
“Most kids would be angry about their circumstances, and I’m sure she’s bummed and stuff when she thinks about it, but she was just realistic and knows what she wants and reconfigures what she needs to.
“Literally the second she could get to the field – the next day after she injured her knee she drove by with her mom, and she was constantly there the entire season, just coaching on the field. I think we even gave her a coach shirt because she was helping out. She would say things in the huddles that she saw. You never took it as she was trying to take over. It was ‘Okay, here’s another kid who has really good insight and wants to help her team.’”
Malpezzi’s story actually began like many others. She grew up in a sports family with parents who competed in high school sports – her mother played soccer and her dad ran track. It was not uncommon for Malpezzi and her younger brother Michael to race around the house to determine who was faster.
Basketball and soccer with Huntingdon Valley Athletic Association entered the picture at a young age, but it was soccer that was her passion. She began playing travel soccer with her mother as the coach and moved through the ranks.
The script was going exactly as planned until seventh grade.
“The goalie was punting the ball, and I had just turned around to go get it – I just did a quick cut on my knee,” Malpezzi said. “I heard this pop, and I went down and was like, ‘What’s going on?’
“I didn’t even know what an ACL or any of those things in my knee were. My mom and the assistant coach came on the field and took me off. My parents took me right to the emergency room. They just said there was swelling and I should get an MRI. A couple days later I got an MRI. The doctor said it could either be a dislocated kneecap or an ACL tear. I was, ‘What’s an ACL?’ I had no clue.”
The only thing Malpezzi knew for sure was that she’d opt for the dislocated kneecap and its relatively short recuperation time over a torn ACL.
“As soon as the doctor told me it was an ACL, in the back of my mind, I thought about what my mom told me that I would be out for nine months,” she said. “I held it together in the doctor’s office, but as soon as I got in the car with my mom, I just burst out into tears.”
Malpezzi didn’t spend time feeling sorry for herself and was back on the sidelines helping to ‘coach’ her eighth grade soccer team. As a freshman, she was in the varsity lineup for both the soccer and lacrosse teams.
“I was definitely nervous coming in because I’m a freshman, I’m new, I have a knee brace on,” Malpezzi said. “My friends were definitely a good support system and so were my parents. I feel like that really got me through it.”
It looked as though Malpezzi’s athletic career was back on track. Until the Lions’ home lacrosse game against Academy of the New Church her sophomore year.
“It was actually a very important game because it was for Laurel House,” Malpezzi said of a fundraiser for a shelter for women who are experiencing domestic violence. “A lot of people were there. We were so pumped for that game.”
Malpezzi’s season not only came to an abrupt halt in but – unbeknownst at the time - she also would miss out on her junior season because of the pandemic.
“I was looking forward to finally playing lacrosse and then it got cancelled again,” she said. “It was devastating.”
Devastating but not enough to keep Malpezzi down. She was back on the field this past fall for the soccer team, a mainstay in the Lions’ lineup.
Matt Gould, in his first year at the helm, knew Malpezzi from her playing days at Huntingdon Valley where he is a coach and oversees the club.
“With COVID, I’m assuming that made it really hard rehabbing, getting back to it, getting fit again,” he said. “It’s more than the physical part, it’s the mental part.
“I broke my leg in college, and it was hard to get back. I can’t imagine tearing both ACLs and having to still go back at it and play another year.”
Malpezzi did more than simply occupy a spot, she was a leader on and off the field.
“Paige started the season at center forward, which definitely is her natural position,” Gould said. “If I could give a profile on Paige – she’s very strong on the ball, she has a pretty good foot, and she’s one of those players that just has that instinct for the goal.
“She did a really good job of creating chances on low quality possessions – we’re moving the ball, the other team might get six, seven girls in the box, and it’s like ‘We’re not going to be able to break this down,’ but she goes in for the jam, she beats a girl, she’s getting a good shot on goal, and for a team that lost so many seniors to injuries this year, it was really important to have that.”
Although Malpezzi was healthy, her team was not. The Lions endured a barrage of injuries, and the senior center forward was asked to fill a different position.
“We had to slide Paige back in the center attacking mid,” Gould said. “It wasn’t her natural position, and she hasn’t played soccer in a good amount of time. She’s very capable of it, and the effort she gave on the field was unbelievable.
“From game one of her playing there to game four or five of getting used to it, she was doing better, she was much more comfortable. She could understand what we needed her to do, and she was a great leader.”
Malpezzi and her fellow seniors were all named captains.
“I couldn’t pick between any of them - they’re all really, really good kids,” Gould said. “ “I look at somebody like Paige – she loses a whole year of soccer in middle school. Okay, she’s young. I don’t know much about the body but I’m assuming that tearing an ACL at 12-13 your body is going to respond better than tearing it at 20-21.
“She comes back and is playing high school soccer, and then she tears it again sophomore year and misses her whole junior year and then COVID hits. How easy would it have been for anyone to say, ‘I’m not doing this, I’m not playing. It’s not even worth it,’ but she comes back, and she has a very good season.”
Not playing was never a consideration for Malpezzi.
“We only played 10 or so games this fall,” she said. “But I was so thankful for even that.”
Malpezzi has her sights set on the spring and her final high school lacrosse season, but listening to her coach tell it, she’s already made contributions without stepping onto the field since the beginning of her sophomore season.
“She’s amazing,” Ashenbrenner said. “We don’t have a middle school program at Lower Moreland, so most kids I get freshman year never played lacrosse, never touched a stick. She’s the kind of kid who will see a kid who needs help with their stick skills and she helps them out.
“She’s a natural leader. I used to coach field hockey too, and I can think of girls that tried to be leaders but they can berate and be mean. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say anything mean-spirited ever. That’s just not part of who she is.”
For Malpezzi, sports – and the injuries – have taught her valuable life lessons.
“Definitely never to give up,” she said. “I’ve been through two torn ACLs. After the first one, I’m like, ‘I’ll be fine,’ but when the second one happened – life is about getting over those big challenges.
“It’s really good when you have a support system there. So when my friends tore theirs (three of the four girls in her group of best friends have torn their ACL), I made sure to check on them, how they were feeling because nobody should be alone during these hard times right now.”
Malpezzi has no intention of giving up sports and is looking to go the club route at college with the University of Delaware and the University of Connecticut two schools she is seriously considering.
“Sports have been such a big part of my life, so I don’t want to give them up fully,” she said.
The Lower Moreland senior plans to major in exercise science with plans to pursue a career as a physician’s assistant specializing in orthopedics and sports injuries.
“I’ve seen so many for my knees, and I just love what they do,” Malpezzi said.
An honors student, Malpezzi is a member of National Honor Society and the school’s THON committee.
“She’s a very high character kid, a good kid,” Gould said. “Her parents are super nice people. It’s just a reflection of what Lower Moreland Township has been producing. It’s not the quality of the athlete but the quality of the kids that are coming out that is very impressive overall as a community.”
“Everyone loves this kid,” Ashenbrenner said. “Teachers love her because she’s comfortable, she’s intelligent, she’s respectful. I’m trying to think of the words to do her justice, to show who she is because she’s a naturally awesome person.
“Sometimes it takes a while for kids to mature. She’s someone you want to be around. Her teammates, her teachers, her fellow students – she exudes a personality you want to be around. Most of the lacrosse girls I’ve coached are nice, but she brings up the people around her. I think that’s what’s special about her.”
(Photos provided courtesy of Greg Zesinger.)