Kent State women soccer’s “Ninja” blossoming in her new defensive role


Kent State’s Morgan Mah leads with the ball as Youngstown State University’s Taylor Ross follows behind on Friday Sept. 20, 2013. Kent State defeated Youngstown 3-0. Photo by Eslah Attar .

Richie Mulhall

Senior Morgan Mah plays with a particular speed and stealth as a defender for the Kent State soccer team, inspiring her family and teammates to refer to her by a name that describes her play style.

Mah received the nickname “Ninja” last season from sophomore soccer player Madison Helterbran, who coined the nickname for Mah to reflect her nonstop, highly energetic play on the field.

“Ninja is all over the place,” Helterbran said of Mah’s intense conditioning during games. “She just looks like a ninja flying through the air. She is quick and you never know, all the sudden, she’s there.”

Helterbran also said Mah has earned her title because of her tenacity, grittiness and ability to grind it out against players who are much bigger than she is.

At just 5-foot-3, Mah is one of the shortest players on the soccer team, but opponents shouldn’t be fooled by her height. Mah said just because she is tiny does not mean she can’t hold her own against other players who surpass her in size. She allows her high level of play dictate her reputation.

“I like to think my size doesn’t determine the size of my play,” Mah said. “I think I play bigger than my stature.”

Mah brought her ninja-like skills to the other side of the ball when she made the switch from offense to defense this season. Mah’s quickness, agility and aggressiveness while protecting the net have made her a force to be reckoned with, despite her small stature.

“She’s so little, but she’s so powerful,” Helterbran said.

Mah’s ability to swoop in on a ball out of nowhere and spoil opponents’ opportunities to score within a moment’s notice has impressed fans and led people to spread the moniker.

Already 10 games into the season, Mah has blossomed in her new role. Kent State head coach Rob Marinaro said Mah sacrificed her center midfielder position from last season to be a defender this season because it makes the team stronger in the back and as a whole unit.

“She’s given up a lot for herself and for her team,” Marinaro said. “Moving her back just gave us a little bit more stability defensively, plus a little bit more leadership coming into the back.”

Mah said she played defense a lot growing up, which has made the process of acclimating her to the defense easier. Katherine Lawrence, Mah’s teammate and fellow senior defender, said Mah has also played various positions since she has been at Kent State, so she was already well acquainted to playing in a defensive scheme.

“She’s a very talented player,” Lawrence said. “It’s definitely an asset to have her on the field wherever she plays, and it’s nice to have her back there (on defense) because she’s really reliable and we know she’ll always fight till the very end, and she’ll give everything she’s got every single time.”

Mah’s versatility and ability to play any position on the field at any given time makes her a threatening competitor to opponents and a valued utility player that can impact the game wherever the team puts her.

“At the end of the day, I’m going play where they want me to play and where they need me to play,” Mah said.

With two freshmen starters on defense, the coaching staff needed another senior defender to lead the young, up-and-coming defense this season. Mah has since stepped up and answered the call.

Since Mah began playing in the backfield with Lawrence this season, Lawrence said she and Mah have communicated well and stayed on the same page so far this season, which helps bring leadership and stability to the defense.

“We’ve been able to relate to each other,” Lawrence said. “We’re both really passionate about the game, and we have a lot of confidence in this team and what we can do.”

With Mah constantly roaming around and on alert for shots aimed at the net, the Flashes’ future opponents this season better take notice and stay on the lookout for the “Ninja.” They will never know when the small, sly player will strike next with her big plays far greater than her size.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].