At first glance, slender 5-foot-7, Canyon Crest soccer standout Maggie Gillcrist hardly presents an intimidating presence when she takes the field. Her sunny personality reinforces the first impressions but opponents best beware—underestimate the talented sophomore at your own risk.
The speedy Gillcrist has racked up eight goals and three assists this season while also proving to be much more of a physical force than anyone would expect.
“Maggie is a very gritty player, particularly for somebody who looks frail,” said CCA Head Coach Matt Favor of his sophomore winger. “She works hard, is as strong as they come and one of the toughest players I’ve ever coached.
“From a soccer perspective, she’s very good on the ball, comfortable dribbling, passing or shooting with both feet, quick for 40-50 yards and a good finisher.”
Last season, as a freshman, she won a spot on the varsity and was able to play alongside her older sister, Molly, who was a senior and is now playing college soccer at the U.S. Naval Academy.
The youngest in a family of four children, Gillcrist has had a tumultuous year-plus, not only having to adjust to starting high school, prep soccer and her sister departing for the East Coast but overcoming the unexpected passing of her father. With the Avocado League season in full swing and her Canyon Crest squad sitting fifth in the CIF Division I power rankings, Gillcrist took time to share thoughts on her personal progress, playing on the same team with her sister and working through the challenges she’s faced. For a longer version of this story, visit rsfreview.com (sports category).
Q—When did you start playing soccer?
GILLCRIST—I began playing competitively at the U-7 level after playing recreational soccer for two or three years, so I probably started when I was about 5. I also played basketball and softball for a while.
Q—What kept you playing soccer instead of those other sports?
GILLCRIST—I just liked soccer more. Softball was a little too slow. I liked basketball but I was better at soccer. It’s not a high-scoring game but super-exciting and I always felt there was more strategy. It’s fast-paced and you have to think. It takes good foot-eye coordination.
I also love the people around the game. It’s kind of a fun community and I still have a lot of close friends from my younger soccer-playing days. And unlike some other sports, it was something I could play with my sisters and brothers outside of practice.
Q—Speaking of family, what was it like having the opportunity to play with your sister, Molly, last season?
GILLCRIST—It was a great experience. It’s really the only time we ever got to play together. Molly was always a couple of years above me in club soccer so it had never worked out.
She is older than me and maturity-wise, we were always kind of off a little bit and weren’t always close until the last couple of years. We started to get closer and being on the same team helped that develop even more. We could hang out and talk, just regular things that sisters do, but it was different.
Q—Molly was one of the top players on the Canyon Crest squad while you were just a freshman. How did the on-the-field dynamic work?
GILLCRIST—I felt she was always supporting me which was really fun. Sometimes, I think she was laying the ball of to me and helping me look better. We’re both outside midfielders and I remember one game last year against Torrey Pines, I crossed it to her and she scored. It was a great moment for both of us.
Q—With your sister gone, how have things changed for you soccer-wise?
GILLCRIST—Last year, I had less responsibility and I was always the “younger sister” or “baby Molly.” It was a lot of fun playing with her but I was also always kind of in her shadow—it wasn’t just my own experience but both of ours. Even today at CCA, she’s still talked about (and loved) a lot but it’s become kind of my own experience now.
Last season, I thought I did well. I didn’t expect to get as much playing time as I did. I remember going onto the field and putting it all in. I never knew how long I would be in. Now, I’m starting, playing more and just figuring things out a lot better than I did last year.
Q—How has your game improved this season?
GILLCRIST—I’ve become more aggressive, particularly when attacking. I’ve already scored a lot more than I did last year and am getting more starts and minutes.
Last year I found out that I have to hold my own ground out there. I’m tall but not as big as some of the other girls. I’ve had to become more physical to stay on the ball. I’ve learned to keep space, get lower and keep my arms out and push into players.
Last year, when other players pushed into me, I didn’t know how to stop it. Now, I use quick feet, get rid of the ball quickly or dribble past without them hitting me.
Q—How would you evaluate the CCA girls’ team this season?
GILLCRIST—We lost a lot of seniors from last year’s roster, a lot of talent and experience, but this team is really hard-working. I think we will be very competitive in the Avocado West League. Our goal is to do well in league and make the CIF Open Division playoffs.
I don’t feel like one aspect of our team stands out from the others—we’re well-rounded. Our defense is pretty solid and players like Morgan Bertrand and Clara Guo make us feel comfortable knowing they’re back there. Emily Gresser and Sarah Kowack, who’s already committed to Portland, are good both connectors in the midfield and forward Sofia Rogers is one of our top scorers.
This team has a good mindset and has focused on being consistent every time out. Torrey Pines is one of the best teams in San Diego and one of our biggest rivals. We always talk about “playing every game like you’re playing Torrey Pines.”
Q—Your father, Peter, who was an aviator, was involved in a fatal air crash last fall. How did that tragedy affect you?
GILLCRIST—Of course, I was sad and I felt a great loss. He was more of the stay-at-home parent. He drove me everywhere and was really smart—he would always be there to help when I had trouble with homework or something like that.
It surprised me that I was also kind of angsty sometimes. At the time, I was just trying to get used to the loss and adjust to the demands of Canyon Crest Academy, so I would often not think about it at school.
Our extended family is pretty close and I felt very supported through a very tough time. We have a lot of family throughout the world and all of us had people around us all the time.
Q—Did you and your sister consider not playing soccer?
GILLCRIST—There wasn’t a question that Molly and I would continue playing. Speaking for myself, soccer gave me something else to think about and concentrate on for a while, as well as providing a release for the excess energy. Exercise and running were also outlets for me during the process.
Q—What do you consider the best traits you’ve inherited from your father?
GILLCRIST—I believe one was joyfulness. My dad was always a light in people’s lives. He was always cheerful and brought up the moods of those around him. I’ve been told I smile a lot and seem happy a lot of the time. I continue to try to be a joyful, uplifting person.
Also, my dad was extremely selfless, giving to others all the time. Therefore, I try to follow in his footsteps and be selfless as much as I can.
Q—From an educational standpoint, Canyon Crest is one of the top-ranked public schools in the state. How would you describe your time there and how do soccer and schoolwork co-exist?
GILLCRIST—CCA is pretty tough academically. It takes a lot of hard work studying. In middle school, I didn’t really have to study that much so when I got here, I had to learn study techniques, time management and things like that.
With classes, homework, eating and practicing, I have to make a schedule to stay on track, both in school and at home. I think soccer helps. When I have soccer in the afternoon, I find I get my homework done quicker and more efficiently. It helps me concentrate. I’ve found if I don’t exercise, it’s harder to concentrate and I end up spending time on things I don’t need to do be doing.
Q—What’s been your favorite class so far at Canyon Crest?
GILLCRIST—Two come to mind—my freshman biology class with Ms. (Deborah) Balch and math with Mr. (James) Farrar. I think the teacher makes such a big difference in what a student gets out of a class. Both of those teachers made their classes fun. For me, at least certain parts of math are challenging, but whether it’s algebra, geometry or trig, once I get it it’s fun and the teacher plays a big role in that.
Q—Do you have any plans for college?
GILLCRIST—I know I would like to play soccer in college but I haven’t thought about college that much. There will be camps, showcases and other ways to get exposure. I’m pushing to play soccer, but if I get an academic offer from a great college that I like a lot better than my soccer options, I’d take that and either walk-on with the intercollegiate team or play club soccer.
Q—What do you do in your spare time outside of school and soccer?
GILLCRIST—I like running in general, trails and stuff like that. I live in Carmel Valley and one of my favorite trails is Gonzaga Canyon out behind Torrey Pines High School. The trails above Torrey Pines State Beach are another good choice .
I also like a lot of foods. Indian food has been my favorite for a while. I enjoy baking. We have a tradition of baking sugar cookies and frosting them over the holidays. You can’t miss with cookies, cupcakes and other fun stuff like that.
I’m very social and hang out with my friends at the beach, mall and other spots. I like Torrey Pines State Beach but we usually go to Del Mar where there are places to eat and shop.
Q—What is another sport you think you might excel at and what sport would be the most difficult for you?
GILLCRIST—I remember basketball being fun and could probably be OK there. Lacrosse looks like fun but I’m not sure about the whole stick situation or flying lacrosse balls.
Golf and tennis seem unlikely, maybe because I’ve just never tried them. Golf seems especially tough. It takes so much patience and concentration—too much thinking.
Q—How would you describe your personality?
GILLCRIST—I hear I’m hard-working and I’m very social. I want to say determined and persistent. When I want something, I’m going to get it.
Q—What are three things you’d like to accomplish before graduating from Canyon Crest?
GILLCRIST—First, would obviously be to get good grades. I got a B last year in math and would like to get straight A’s the rest of the way. In high school soccer, I’d like to see CCA make the playoffs, win CIF and be recruited by a college soccer program. Finally, I’d like to be the leader of a club. I’m now a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) so that might be an opportunity.