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College of the Canyons women’s soccer player represent PNG

She returned to the Santa Clarita Valley last week as a Pacific Games gold medal winner.

And if her team can take the next step and upset New Zealand in a two-game playoff later this year or early next, the now-Canyon Country resident just may be headed to the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

“That was such an awesome feeling for me because we were on home soil. And to have our fans (and parents) be there to support us throughout, it was just awesome,” Maino said of winning the Pacific Games, an Olympics-style competition for 24 Pacific nations such as Fiji, Samoa and Guam, in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea from July 4-18.

Maino, who moved in with her uncle and aunt to attend high school in the United States roughly five years ago, played left back for Papua New Guinea.

The squad won its fourth-straight Pacific Games title with a 1-0 win over New Caledonia in the final last Thursday. But it had already qualified to face New Zealand with its semifinal win over Samoa because of New Caledonia not being an International Olympic Committee member.

Maino didn’t play any offense in the games. But the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, when talking about the team’s offense in an article this month, still described her as having been “incredibly creative.”

“We played four games,” Maino said. “I started all four of them, but I was taken out in the third one. I was sick, so I was taken out in the second half.”

Maino said she plans to play for Papua New Guinea when it takes on New Zealand in a home-and-away playoff series, likely in October or January, for the right to go to next year’s Olympics.

New Zealand beat Papua New Guinea 8-0 and 7-0 in the same situation in 2012.

In the meantime, Maino will be preparing for her sophomore season at COC.

“That’s why I had to come back right after the games, so I could get back into training here,” Maino said.

After attending Heritage Christian School, she played right back for COC this past season as a freshman, starting 20 of the team’s 22 games.

The Cougars finished the year 16-2-4 overall — with 15 shutouts — and won their fourth-straight Western State Conference, South title.

Maino tried out for Papua New Guinea’s team last March in games against the Singapore and Thailand national teams.

“I was definitely nervous because I had no idea who the other girls were,” Maino said. “I just went out there, did my thing, played football.”

There may be even bigger “football” games to come.

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