She won a gold medal competing in the World Cup in Japan, an All-American, led the nation with 31 goals last year, has helped her team to a College Cup this season and was a finalist for women’s soccer’s version on the Hesiman Trophy.
But her road to Penn State was not as effortless as she makes scoring 30 goals work.
Maya Hayes has been the staple to the No. 1-seeded Penn State women’s soccer teams offense, but years ago she almost missed her chance.
When she was just four years old she joined her first soccer team, but without the sacrifices made by her parents and coaches pushing her for more she may have never broken into the national scene.
“At the time when I started my mom was a single parent and I would just badger her and badger her and badger her about playing,” Hayes said. “Her big thing was how was she supposed to commute because she worked in New York and how was she going to get me to practice and games.”
Her hometown of West Orange, N.J. is not exactly a soccer hot bed, but Hayes said her first coach recognized a special talent and told mom that she needed to be on a travel team where she would have more exposure.
“Maya was really young when I found her, she wasn’t even starting for her club team,” Penn State coach Erica Walsh said. “She was playing on an older club team and I had her come for a visit well before she even started this process. I think she was on campus three times before she even looked anywhere else. She had not been to any national team camps and by the time everyone else discovered her she was already here, she had basically committed.”
Hayes went through her club soccer playing years by the side of her best friend Meg Morris who is now a defender at North Carolina and they both played together through the national team ranks.
Morris and Hayes played every year together from the town league all the way through the Under-20 National Team program.
“I think it’s actually crazy to see how a person that you’ve known all your life just grow and develop as a player. I think it’s actually amazing. Her days are just beginning right now,” Morris said.
Though Hayes has national team hopes, she said her journey with the national team has been rocky.
“It’s funny, we got invited to our first National Team camp with the U-15 team and Megan participated in the Olympic Development Program (ODP) where you play for your state and then from your state team you can go to regional camp,” Hayes said. “Then you get picked from region team where you play a regional tournament during thanksgiving time and that kind of puts you in the pool for the national team. Megan had done all that; I didn’t. I had gone from playing club straight to national camp. And I guess it became a controversial thing because it’s not supposed to happen like that.”
Just when she broke into the national scene her hopes were struck down again as she was cut from the U-17 level of the national camps and Morris called that one of the defining moments in each of their careers.
“The U-17 coach was a rival coach of my club coach and he was not a fan of Megan or I,” Hayes said. “So I was never invited to any of the U-17 camps and Megan was invited to all of them and then got cut right before the World Cup process. It was just like a slap in our coaches faces, a slap in our faces.”
Hayes did not know the next step into getting back into the National Team circuit, so she turned to Walsh for guidance.
At this time in her career Walsh was a coach at the ODP Region-One level, which is where Hayes would play next.
Even though Hayes was invited to compete with the National Team she said that she still did not know that soccer could be a possibility that was more than just school.
Hayes competed with the U-15 level, was cut from the U-17, but was invited to a super camp to for the U-18 and U-20 teams when she was just 16 years old.
At the camp Hayes said she was one of the youngest players and assumed she would be trying out for the 18s team, but instead she was invited to compete in the 2010 World Cup with the U-20 team camp.
“I think that’s when it kicked in that this was very possible because I got picked for the U-20 camp. I got a phone call in January after the camp and the U-20 camp was in march and they said ‘hey, you have been chosen to come to Spain with the U-20 team’ and I literally looked at my phone and I was like ‘do you think they called the wrong person for the wrong team?’ ” Hayes said.
“I literally thought they were confused, I had to ask them for what team again and I was like I wonder if I know I am in high school still. I was just baffled and surprised out of my mind and I think that’s when it kicked in that it was very possible.”
During 2010 Hayes competed with current Penn State teammate Christine Nairn and said the she draws on her for anything she is going through because Nairn has already been there.
“Maya has grown up a lot in the four years that I have known her,” Nairn said. “It has been interesting to see just her leadership develop from just barely making the U-20 roster in 2010 and then practically captaining it the second time around.”