St. Al offense lifted by Hayward’s skills

Published 12:05 pm Thursday, December 9, 2010

Watching Nicole Hayward sprint up and down the soccer field, running past defenders and zipping the ball into the net, it’s easy to forget she’s only seven games into her high school career.

It’s hard, though, to imagine what she’ll do over the next six years.

Hayward, a seventh-grader, has scored nine goals in St. Aloysius’ first seven games this season. Her touch, speed and playmaking ability have given the young Lady Flashes a big-time weapon as they’ve gotten off to a surprising 4-3 start heading into Tuesday’s game at archrival Cathedral.

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“She’s got a lot of tenacity and drive, and is not afraid,” St. Al coach Suzie Channell said. “She pressures you and makes you make mistakes. Then she’s fast enough to take advantage of them.”

Hayward’s playmaking ability was on full display Friday night. She scored four goals — three of them in the first half — in a 6-2 win over Philadelphia. One goal came off a rebound, and two others were well-placed shots. Her third goal, however, was all effort and hustle.

In the closing moments of the first half, Hayward won a ball along the right sideline, about 40 yards from the goal. She broke free from her defender and had several steps on any pursuers. After dribbling inside the box, Hayward put a shot on goal that was stopped by Philadelphia’s Taytana Fox. Hayward quickly followed up by tapping in the rebound, giving St. Al a 4-2 halftime lead.

The goal, Hayward’s ninth of the season, capped off her second big performance of the young season. She also had four goals in three games at the season-opening Tupelo tournament. Following the win over Philadelphia, she shrugged off her performance.

“I’ve just been playing soccer for a while. It’s nothing special,” she said.

Channell disagreed. She said Hayward’s scoring binge has helped open up the rest of the Lady Flashes’ offense. They had 24 shots on goal against Philadelphia. In a 1-0 loss to Brookhaven two weeks ago, they outshot the Class 5A Lady Panthers 14-6 and had numerous scoring chances.

“She is the one that’s going to have that threat, so I’m going to surround her with our best players,” Channell said. “Because she’s in the middle, it does allow us to spread the field and work on our angles.”

Although it’s still early in the season — St. Al won’t even play a division game until Jan. 4 — the Lady Flashes are carving an identity as a team to reckon with. Nine seniors graduated from the squad that reached the Class 1A-2A-3A semifinals last season and were replaced with a roster that only has two juniors and no seniors.

Despite that, the high-powered offense has them confident they’re heading in the right direction and, they hope, back to the playoffs.

“As an individual and a team, especially being young, we’re doing a really good job,” Hayward said.