As a child, it took some dabbling in various sports for Brooke Elby to figure out how to best channel her athletic gifts.
"I actually have tried a number of different sports — gymnastics, softball, swimming," says Elby, a senior forward on the Flintridge Prep girls' soccer team. "I found that I was much better when I could run around everywhere because I was a very active child. My parents found that I loved kicking the ball and just running everywhere."
The image of a rambunctious youngster letting loose on the soccer field is an apt metaphor for the way in which Elby still flies from one corner of the field to the other, with a motor that never stops and possesses an extra gear that most defenders can't match.
"It's really nice to see when she cuts and dribbles through three or four players and then shoots," Prep senior forward Alina Okamoto says. "It's fun to watch, definitely."
In the last 12 months alone, her flamboyant, hard-charging and creative interpretation of the forward position has carried the Rebels to their first Prep League title in nine years and Elby to a verbal commitment to play at the University of North Carolina, the most successful NCAA Division I women's program of all time.
Not that Elby's work at Prep (11-3-2, 3-1-1 in league) is finished, by any means. She's already nearly doubled the scoring output of her entire breakout junior campaign with a staggering 22 goals through Tuesday.
"It feels really good," Elby says of her red-hot start to the year, which has seen her register four hat tricks. "I just kind of wanted to go out with a bang because it's my senior year and next year I'll be in college. I wanted to leave with a good mark."
With much soccer left to be played, it's clear that at this pace, Elby may turn in one of the most prolific seasons in area lore before it's all said and done.
"We're all really impressed with her right now," junior Prep forward Arielle Baptiste says. "She's really essential to our team, I would say. She really does carry the team a lot."
With the blazing speed, impeccable footwork and ball handling that allows her to split double-teams and cut a path to the goal from virtually any angle, Elby, who also handles most free kicks for Prep, is often the most versatile and valuable player on the field in any given situation.
But before the reigning Prep League tri-Most Valuable Player could fully tap into her raw talent, she had to learn to temper the very same frenetic style that launched her rise to becoming a high school standout and major collegiate prospect.
"I definitely have matured over the years," says Elby, who is also a reigning Prep League champion in the 300-meter low hurdles and 400 meters and was a finalist in the CIF Southern Section Division IV 300 low hurdles last spring. "I used to just be really wild with the ball and not really think about what I was doing and now that I slow the game down and think about things a lot more and become patient, my game has really improved.
"I just had to be patient with the ball and rely on my teammates and it's going really well so far."
Learning to slow things down when necessary and not trying to do too much all at once were things that Rebels Coach Esteban Chavez had urged Elby to work on and Chavez says it was probably the one thing holding Elby back from being a complete player.
"I just think she's matured on the field," Chavez says. "She doesn't try to do everyone else's job. Before, she would drop in too much and now she's being patient. Last year I couldn't play her as a high forward because she always came back and I had to put her as a center midfielder. Now I kind of give her that option and she's being patient.
"Even when they man-mark her, she's learned to not get frustrated and to understand that in 80 minutes nobody's good enough to man-mark her for 80 minutes."
It was an adjustment Elby, who is third on the team with five assists, was ready and willing to make, but she had to be careful not to relinquish her trademark flair and energetic pace in the process.
"I wasn't going to lose who I was or anything," Elby says. "I love being crazy and running everywhere just to try to get that ball. But, definitely, sometimes I do need to slow down the game and take a deep breath and that's always nice because I can then kind of compose myself and choose when I need to be wild, but also when I need to slow it down a bit."
The growth was immediately evident when Elby poured in five goals in the Rebels' season-opener on Nov. 30. But over the long haul of the season, Elby has continued to not only improve, but also make the entire team better.
"We've all grown up as players and especially her," Baptiste says. "She has, I think, matured a lot as a player and her skill and awareness of the entire field as a whole has changed a lot positively."
Having led the Rebels to just the second league title in program history last season, Elby realized one of the biggest objectives of her high school career. Next season she will embark on the first year of another.
Having verbally committed to North Carolina last January after first meeting the coaching staff at a camp and then being recruited at a Florida club tournament in 2009, Elby expects to sign her letter of intent soon.
"That has always been my dream school since freshman year," Elby says of joining the Tar Heels, who have won 22 national championships, "but I never thought it was actually a possibility until it started to become a possibility. I just went head over heels into it and just dove right into it. When [Coach Anson Dorrance] asked me to join, my answer was yes on the spot. I couldn't even take a deep breath, I was so excited."