If you want to know how important Maritza Hayes is to Nebraska’s defense, just check her minutes.
The senior from O’Fallon, Mo., has played every second of four of the last five matches and has started nearly every game of her career with the Husker soccer team.
“She has recovered from her summer knee injury and is playing her best soccer now that we are in the heart of the conference season,” coach John Walker said. “She has been crucial to the team’s success.”
The No. 22 Huskers (10-3-1, 5-1-0) sit in first place in the Big Ten with five games left. Unbeaten in league play on the road, they travel to Wisconsin at 7 p.m. Friday and Minnesota at 1 p.m. Sunday in their final regular-season road trip.
Hayes said she’s glad to be back to full speed after hurting the MCL in her left leg at the beginning of July. She missed four games, and it took until the Sept. 22 game with Denver that she started to feel like herself again.
She’s slipped back into her usual role, which she said is to keep everything in order and everyone on the team communicating and on the same page.
“Maritza is a strong one-on-one defender with great pace and technique, an excellent organizer, a brave box defender and brings a calmness to the team defensively,” Walker said.
Both games this weekend will be a challenge for Hayes and her team. Wisconsin (8-3-2, 3-2-1) has given up 16 goals in 13 matches. Minnesota (9-4-1, 2-3-1) has held teams to 12 goals and is 2-0 against the Huskers since they joined the Big Ten.
Hayes said she never worries about the other team. She just focuses on the team’s goals. This year, that’s to be the Big Ten champion.
“We all came together and set a goal that we thought was attainable,” she said. “We all know we really want it, and I think that helps.”
After the season, Hayes, who has earned several academic honors, hopes to secure a public relations internship with a major company. She said it’s hard to believe her career is nearly over.
“This group is a great group to be around,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun this year, and a lot of fun the years before as well.”