Malibu AYSO going strong as fall season opens

Ellie Howard, nine, works on her shooting at a recent U-10 Extra team practice. Dick Dornan / TMT

Malibu AYSO Region 759 play kicked off for the fall season on Saturday, Sept. 8, and there has been no looking back. On any given Saturday, more than 800 young boys and girls converge upon soccer fields at six different locations in Malibu to play. The local chapter’s objective is to “provide quality youth soccer programs that enrich children’s lives.” With 80 teams participating this fall, youth soccer is thriving in Malibu.

“It pays off when you see 800 kids playing and smiling,” said Rica Leon, Malibu’s Regional Commissioner. “A win for us is when a player comes back and signs up for the next season. Fun, fair and safe are the objectives for AYSO in Malibu.”

The American Youth Soccer Organization, simply known as “AYSO,” is child-first and child focused. Malibu AYSO prides itself on creating a family-first environment and developing successful players.

“I love and appreciate the sport. We focus on player development while giving the kids and their families an opportunity to enjoy and have fun,” said Mark Konopaske, assistant regional commissioner. “It’s a wholesome activity for the kids to do.”

Fields are being utilized at Malibu Bluffs Park, Trancas Park, Malibu High School and at Juan Cabrillo, Point Dume and Webster Elementary schools. Yet, field space is at a premium and with the ever-growing numbers of soccer youth increasing, there is a demand for more fields in Malibu.

“We are jam-packed and at maximum capacity,” Konopaske said. “We need more space to play.”

Malibu AYSO consists of 74 regular teams, also known as “core” teams, and six “extra” teams who are more advanced fundamentally and play in leagues across the San Fernando and Conejo Valleys.

The Malibu girls U-10 Extra team recently placed third in the Camarillo Extra Cup. The team practices twice a week, with one day focusing on team practice and the other day on skill development with Corinne Briers, a former professional player.

“AYSO is so important for the community,” Briers explained. “It’s the kids’ first experience with soccer, so if you can influence them to really love the game and be excited about it and keep them in the sport, then we are really doing a good job.”

Briers assists with teaching the players the technical skills of soccer while also helping the coaches with their own professional growth.

“My number one job as a coach is for every one of these girls to come back and play again next year,” Girls U-10 Extra Coach Billy Howard said. “The second is working on individual skills. Then we focus on teamwork and some strategy at this level. I want to see the girls progress from the beginning to the end of the season with better skills and as a better team.

“Corrine relates to the girls so well. She has a great personality and the girls love her. It’s wonderful to have this level of soccer trainer available to us here in Malibu.”

Performing well in the Camarillo Extra Cup brought a big smile to the girls, many of whom earned their first medals ever in soccer.

“I was really happy that we did well against all of those teams and I got to play different positions,” said Sophia Prudholme, nine. “I love soccer because I think I’m good at it and I can improve a lot.”

“It was really fun, especially since it was our first tournament,” added Madison Smith, nine. “It’s a team sport. It is fun and I get to interact with all my friends.”

In her second season as a member of the “extra” team, fellow nine-year-old Sydney Morrison has had a chance to play different positions each year.

“I’ve played midfielder and sweeper this year. Last year I played left forward,” Morrison said. “Soccer is practically my whole life. It’s really fun.”

Three years ago, Malibu AYSO Region 759 received national recognition when it received the honor as a Platinum Region, and it has maintained that status the last couple of years. This distinguished privilege is bestowed upon a region that demonstrates and models AYSO’s philosophies and commitment to providing friendly youth soccer experiences for all players, families and parent volunteers throughout their community.

Only the top one percent of AYSO chapters are granted this honor by the National AYSO organization.

More than 200 volunteers in Malibu AYSO dedicate their time as coaches, referees, schedulers, board members and help with field preparation.

“The reason I joined this year as commissioner is because of the great group of volunteers we have,” Leon said. “It’s an honor to be here because of our volunteers.”

Those volunteers have played a major role in making last month a September to remember for youth soccer in Malibu, despite a heat wave that made the conditions a little stickier than usual for all involved.

“Everybody plays and they are balanced teams. But I know one thing for sure. I am looking forward to cooler weather,” Konopaske said.