With playoff hopes dangling by a thread heading into the final week of the regular season, the Lady Highlanders girls’ soccer team needed a spark. Just as its hopes began to fade, that spark arrived.
Senior forward Brooke Mays ignited her team with a last minute goal to lift her team over city rival Sonora to start the week and rode that hot streak to the tune of six goals, one hat trick, and a berth into the CIF Division 2 playoffs all in the span of four days.
Brooke led her team in the comeback against Sonora, scored two against Buena Park to force a playoff against Sonora, then after the team surrendered a goal, she exploded for three unanswered goals in less than 40 minutes.
For her, it was a picture perfect finish.
“If I were to end my last week of high school soccer, that would have been the way to end it,” she said. “It was an amazing feeling.”
The tremendous performance has not gone unnoticed as friends, teachers, and even strangers in the halls are complimenting her.
“Someone called me Lightning McQueen today,” Brooke said.
In addition to the support she receives around town and at school, her mom is her best cheerleader in the stands.
“I always hear her yelling at me,” Brooke said. “It’s awesome knowing that what she’s going through, she would give anything to watch me do what I love, because she loved it too.”
The two have a bond which inspires her to play at her best.
This is not the first time someone in her family has achieved superstar status on the pitch, her mom once was a star soccer player too, before being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 16.
“My mom was a big, star soccer player back in the day, she was supposed to go on tour and try out for the USA Women’s team,” Brooke said.
For now, Brooke’s dream would be to play for UCLA after high school and compete at a Division I school, but is still waiting for the best option after high school.
She desires to compete with the best for a championship, but also considers the possibility of being a key cog in a smaller school’s program while competing in the NAIA. Regardless of the next location, soccer should remain a constant.
Blessed with speed, athleticism, and good genes, Brooke is often the fastest player on the pitch, however her mental game has led her to become the force seen on the field today.
“When I first started coaching her, she could only run in straight lines, she couldn’t change directions,” said Matt Sanger, La Habra head coach. “She would get the ball and it wouldn’t be uncommon for her to, if she was running out of bounds, she would take the ball and just run out of bounds. If we played a through ball, often times she wouldn’t get her head up so she would be going towards the keeper and end up at the corner flag.
“She’s fast, she thinks quickly, she makes split decisions, she reacts very quickly,” Sanger added, “but the biggest challenge is getting her to slow down and think when she’s on the field and that’s the main area of growth.”
By slowing down, she has been able to read defenses and find her teammates.
Brooke’s eye for the field has allowed her to understand the movement of other players. Surprisingly, she doesn’t enjoy watching soccer, because she gets frustrated watching other players make mistakes as she inserts herself in their place.
Instead, Brooke prefers to watch Law and Order and eat tacos from teammate Cortney Gonzalez’ dad. “I’m not a typical girl, I hate shopping, I hate getting my nails done,” she said. “I just hang out with my friends, normal kid stuff.”
She added that though food is the way to her heart, she prefers Hot Cheeto Puffs.
With the clock racing on her high school career, there is still at least one more game left to be played.
The Lady Highlanders face Long Beach Wilson on Friday, and Brooke may be called upon to shoulder the load offensively.
“If she is able to solidify her presence on the field and make sure that she is a very dangerous presence against other teams, then we do have a shot to win,” Sanger said.
He knows she will have a lot of pressure, but he knows she can handle it.
Leadership, teamwork and mental preparation will lead to success, and Brooke is confident this team has the DNA to get there.
Of her thoughts on the Friday’s matchup, she simply said, “I want it to be the upset of the year.”