It wasn’t until days after the fact when the thought finally occurred to Catherine Hayes. In all of her years playing soccer, she had never won a championship of any kind before. This was her first one.
Not a bad way to start, though, with a national championship.
Hayes, a former Mattituck High School player who lives in Cutchogue, helped Monroe College to its second National Junior College Athletic Association championship in five years Saturday. The second-seeded team from New Rochelle scored three straight goals, including two late in the second half, to topple the defending national champion, No. 1 seed Tyler, 3-1, in the final in Foley, Ala.
After the game, Hayes’ cellphone exploded with congratulatory messages from parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters.
“Making my family proud was the best feeling,” Hayes said. “I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world.”
Hayes, a sophomore center midfielder, scored three goals in 17 games this year for Monroe (16-0-1). She started the last three games — a national quarterfinal, semifinal and final. “That was the best way to start a game and the best way to end a tournament,” she said.
Monroe, though, didn’t start the final the way it would have liked. Just 95 seconds into the match, Hitomi Kono corralled a deflection and slid the ball past goalkeeper Marta Alemany (five saves) for an early 1-0 Tyler lead.
Tyler (23-2-1) lost control of the game after that. Francesca Sullivan tied it at 1-1 at 41:24. Maria Santin put in the go-ahead goal at 72:53 and Angie Ponce sealed it with another strike at 83:27.
“Everyone just went out and performed,” Hayes said. “We were such a tight-knit group of kids. I think the team’s chemistry just showed on the field.”
It was an extra special night for Hayes. Her niece, Teagan Kelley Hayes, was born the night of the final.
Monroe is a two-year athletic school and a four-year academic school. Hayes said she would like to continue her college soccer career after leaving the Mustangs, but hasn’t made a decision yet on where she will go.
“It’s still very [early] in the recruiting process,” she said. “I have a few options, but nothing’s set in stone yet.”
One thing is for sure: Hayes will take away a memory she will cherish for the rest of her life.
“I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it,” she said. “I would go back to that day any day. It’s just unreal … I never knew that … a season could end like this.”
Photo caption: Catherine Hayes (right), a sophomore center midfielder from Cutchogue, helped Monroe College to its second NJCAA championship in five years. (Credit: Stockton Photos)