Sky Blue FC drafted Penn State forward Maya Hayes in the first round of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) College Draft, and she officially signed with the club on February 5. Danielle D’Avanzo of SkyBlueFC.com had the opportunity to chat with Hayes about her draft day experience and her excitement to return to her home state and start her professional career.
D’Avanzo: Since you were at the 2014 NWSL College Draft in Philadelphia, can you start by describing in detail your personal experience at the draft?
Hayes: “It was a lot to take in. It didn’t really hit me that the whole process was about to begin until I was on my way to Philly the day before. I was sitting on the bus thinking, “This is real. This is happening!” Then it got even more real when I was sitting in that chair in the convention center and teams starting to go on the clock. It was by far one of the biggest moments so far in my lifetime – one of the more nerve wracking obviously – but something that I will forever remember and something that I’m gracious for. Just to be sitting in that room and hear your name called, and then to walk up on that stage… just the whole experience itself was pretty surreal. I was definitely happy I was actually able to be there for it and be a part of it.”
D: Going into the draft, did you have any idea where you were going to end up?
H: “I had spoken with a few teams – with Sky Blue FC obviously being one of those – before the draft. I had an idea of when those picks were coming but as far as a strong inkling of where exactly I was going to go, I had no idea.”
D: You said you talked with a couple of teams prior to the draft. Was there a team that you really wanted to be drafted by?
H: “To be honest, I went into the draft with an open mind. After talking to a lot of my friends that completed their first year in the league last season and what their mindset was and how things worked out for them, I purposefully didn’t go in with any expectations. I figured the less expectations you have, the more you can enjoy the experience and show pure emotion and be excited for the opportunity in front of you rather than say, “I hope I go here,” and then if things don’t work out be disappointed in a way. I chose to go in with an open mind and be gracious wherever I went. I didn’t have a specific place I wanted to go or needed to be.”
D: And that’s the best mindset to go into something like that for sure. So when you heard your name called after Sky Blue FC drafted you, what was your initial reaction?
H: “Well my heart was racing and my initial reaction was, “Do I have to go on that stage and say something?” because I was not ready for that. There were so many thoughts going on in my head and emotions going on at the moment that I was thinking, “Oh God. I’ve got to talk now.” I thought there was going to just be a jumble of words coming out of my mouth, but in that moment it all just became a reality. For so long, going through the process of signing up for the draft and filling out forms and some coaches contacting you, it was kind of like a waiting game and a tease a little bit. So to hear my name called and to be in that room and to get that opportunity, it all hit me in that moment. I’m doing an awful job of describing it because it’s hard to find words for that exact feeling but I know I couldn’t stop smiling, and by the end of the day my cheeks were hurting.”
D: Now you get to return to your home state to play professional soccer. How does that feel to grow up in New Jersey and then come full circle to start your professional career back here?
H: “It’s pretty cool. Somebody asked me a similar question and it’s interesting because I played club all throughout Jersey – mainly with Montclair – and as soon as college came I was like, “I wanna get away a little bit.” Obviously I didn’t go too far going to Penn State, but it was far enough that my parents could come to games and still see me play. It’s funny because you want to get away and you have this experience, and now I’m coming back to where it all started. It’s definitely fun knowing that there will be a lot of home team support, especially from people that I know and have followed me throughout my career, and they’ll have the opportunity to really see me play because I’m closer to them now. It’s an experience I’m looking forward to and I can’t wait for the season to start.”
D: Looking forward, I know it’s early to tell because the season hasn’t started yet, but what would you like to personally bring to Sky Blue FC and help make an impact?
H: “I guess at this point just anywhere I can help. Whether that’s scoring, whether that’s on the defensive end, whether it’s helping break down defenses and being a part of the attack; wherever I can help I hope to help. I don’t have any large specific goals.”
D: What are you most excited about playing in Jersey at Rutgers this year?
H: “The support. The Jersey soccer community is pretty close knit. I know I’ve been there for a few games in the past when Sky Blue FC was in the WPS. To see the support they had then, especially from being able to see the younger kids on the sidelines as ball girls and ball boys, stuff like that is kind of cool for me. To know that I’ll be with Sky Blue FC in Jersey at home is going to be a really cool experience.”
D: When you went to those Sky Blue FC games back in the WPS, did you ever sit there and think, “I going to be here one day on the field playing,”?
H: “Honestly, no. I mean, you always want your career to go to the next level and you always want to get better, but when I was going to those games I had just started driving. I remember that summer as soon as the season started, one of the first things I did was I picked up my friend and we went to a Sky Blue FC game. It’s weird to think that five, six years ago I was sitting in the stands and I was there just to enjoy the experience. To know that now I could potentially be one of those players on the field with another little girl in the stands having that same experience is pretty cool. It kind of comes full circle like you mentioned before. I think now that you said that it’s hitting me. I’m definitely excited for this upcoming season.”