About a month ago, women’s soccer head coach Erica Walsh’s cell phone started buzzing with texts from her superstar forward.
But it was not about extra practice or reps.
Maya Hayes just wanted to get into a game.
Less than a week after returning from playing with the gold medal-winning United States national soccer team in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Japan, Hayes, the junior forward, helped No. 11 Penn State (6-2-0) to a 2-1 victory over No. 13 Wisconsin on Sunday.
Walsh did not intend to play Hayes this weekend to allow for more time for her body clock to adjust back to State College’s time zone, but said Hayes was able to sneak into the lineup because of an injury to midfielder Bri Garcia.
“I am getting text messages from Japan saying that she is playing in this game,” Walsh said. “[I said,] ‘Maya, last time I checked I decide that,’ but Maya is a princess.”
Until this weekend, Hayes had not beaten Wisconsin in two seasons at Penn State, so she said that was extra motivation for this match-up.
“This was my first time beating Wisconsin, so this was a big deal,” Hayes said. “Especially to get the win at Jeffery [Field] and start a new [Big Ten] winning streak, that’s what we want, so it was good for us.”
Things were not falling into place early for Hayes, as she had near misses just wide of the goal. She also took a penalty kick for the Lions, but Wisconsin goalie Lauren Gunderson was able to make the diving stop.
“After those missed shots I told her just to smile and enjoy the game,” Walsh said. “As she said, she has never scored against Wisconsin, so all the pressure was on her shoulders.”
Actually, the forward did score against the Badgers in 2010. But given the month in Japan and her 31 goals last season, perhaps it would be easy to forget.
Hayes rebounded from her near misses in the first half by attacking early in the second. Just two minutes into the second half, she wove past two Wisconsin defenders inside the box to launch a shot past the goalie into the right side of the net for her first Penn State goal this season. She totaled six shots and four on goal for the day.
“I am happy to score the first goal this game to have it off my back, not to have it lingering,” Hayes said. “It was awesome especially after missing that [penalty kick].”
According to senior captain Maddy Evans the Lions are focusing on the “One Team” aspect, as are all other Penn State sports this season. She says that the family is finally back together and there is nothing like having the whole squad playing together again.
For the freshmen on the team, this was their first time ever playing with Hayes outside of practice.
“It is just an honor to play with her,” freshman midfielder Raquel Rodriguez said. “Maya Hayes is a big name and I am very happy and very honored.”
Hayes led the Lions in goals last season and is back again as a key offensive threat for the team this year.
“[Hayes] is the most humble big star and she learned it from Christine Nairn,” Walsh said. “She makes everyone on our team better right now.”