UNIVERSITY PARK — Maya Hayes was not about to be denied after waiting so long.
Fresh off helping the U.S. national team win the FIFA Under-20 Womens World Cup in Japan, Hayes scored a goal in her first game back with Penn State in a 2-1 soccer win over Wisconsin at Jeffrey Field on Sunday.
Im happy to be back and happy to be back on Jeffrey Field with the music and the crowd and the team and the atmosphere itself, Hayes said. It was awesome.
Raquel Rodriguez also scored late in the first half for the No. 11 Nittany Lions (6-2, 1-0), who had a slew of alumni on hand to cheer on the team. Lexi Petersons late goal for the No. 13 Badgers (6-2, 0-1) spoiled the shutout in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
This might have been our biggest challenge, head coach Erica Walsh said of the physical style of play of Wisconsin, which is led by former Penn State coach Paula Wilkins. They play such a different style than us, and its so hard to prepare for them and they do it so well.
Hayes, who was joined by fellow Lion Taylor Schram in Japan, had missed the first month of the season playing with Team USA, scoring four goals during the tournament including a hat trick in a win over Ghana. The U.S. captured the gold medal with a 1-0 win against Germany last weekend.
It keeps going through my head that a week ago I was in Tokyo, said Hayes, who noted she sat out the first few practices to help in the transition. Im still trying to adjust in that fashion, but in terms of being back Im happy to be back and I love it.
All the while, Hayes stayed in touch with Walsh, insisting she would be on the field against the Badgers.
She started calling me about a month ago asking me to play in this game, Walsh said. There was no way Im getting text messages from Japan that shes playing in this game. I said, Maya, last time I checked, I decide that.
Hayes and Schram landed back in State College on Monday night.
Maya was there to be a secondary player, a reserve, and she slipped into the starting lineup this week because of injury but we did not intend on starting her this week, Walsh said. She slid in and did a good job. It takes a day to recover every time zone you cover and she covered 16 time zones.
Hayes played a variety of positions, from the left wing to right in the midfield and both forward spots, and was on the field for all but 10 minutes. She missed the last five when Wisconsins Alexandra Heller turned and blasted the ball in an attempt to send it deep down the field and it instead hit Hayes right in the face about three yards away. The junior was checked by the medical staff and helped from the field, but with two minutes left she was waiting to re-enter the game, though there were no more stoppages in play to give her the chance to return.
She still led the team with six of its 19 shots, including four on goal, missing her first attempt on a deflection five minutes in, then five minutes later rushing a shot when she was one-on-one with keeper Lauren Gunderson and missing wide.
I was happy (I later scored). Im glad I didnt go the entire game, Hayes said. As a team we played great. We came out and pushed the tempo the entire game and just played awesome.
The toughest miss came with 6:33 left in the first half when the Badgers Lindsey Hamann was called for a hand ball in the penalty box. Hayes guided the ball toward the left post on the ensuing penalty kick, but Gunderson made a diving save.
Coach kind of threw me in there at practice, Hayes said. It wasnt that big of a deal. My biggest thing was not hanging my head afterwards. That was my biggest focus. Its going to happen. Thats the game of soccer.
(I told her) just to smile and enjoy the game because, as she said, shes never scored against Wisconsin, Walsh said. All the pressure was on herself, her shoulders.
Rodriguez finally broke the scoreless drought heading the ball in off Whitney Churchs free kick 56 seconds before halftime.
That was pretty cool, Church said. Being in the back you dont think about assisting or getting that many attempts at goal.
Hayes, who led the nation in scoring last season, then broke through 2:36 into the second half by dribbling through the Badger defense on the left side of the box before ripping the ball just inside the far post.
Peterson netted the Badger goal with 9:27 left, blasting the ball past keeper Erin McNulty when a defensive clearing attempt rolled to her feet. McNulty made two saves for the win as Penn State outshot Wisconsin 19-14.
Schram did not play, suffering a concussion during her first practice back with the team earlier in the week.
All I want to do is get out there, play for my team and give it everything I have, said Schram, who had suffered a concussion last November which took seven months for recovery. It was difficult doing that on the bench today, but we took care of business and thats all that matters.
Still, the experiences of the past month made missing so much of the season worthwhile.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, Schram said. I learned a lot, played with some of the best girls in the world, got to be coached by some of the best coaches in the world it was amazing.