By Seth Kinker, email@example.com
Coming into this season, the Manchester Boys Soccer team was in search of a keeper.
The year prior a foreign exchange student, Fillipo Garzotto, was in between the posts for the Dutchmen. The Dutchmen were ranked in the top ten in division four throughout that season and fell in the district semifinals.
Enter Brayden Hayes, a senior at Manchester High School.
Hayes first played soccer when he was around five, just kicking the ball around the yard. He played in youth leagues until about sixth or seventh grade, mainly defense, but quit because he started to think he wasn’t very good at it.
He picked up baseball around the same time, something he still does as a pitcher and third baseman on the high school baseball team.
Hayes was familiar with the soccer program, with many friends on the team.
“Owen (Whitney) and Calvin (Daniels) were always trying to get me on the team for at least two years,” said Hayes.
Hayes told The Sun Times that this year, Whitney and Daniels had only asked him about a week or two before the season was scheduled to start. Hayes told them he would think about it and later that week while at Daniels house, attended a practice with Daniels.
“They just played world cup and had me in goal,” said Hayes of that practice. “It just came natural, I felt like I had some cool saves. They were all surprised at how well I did so they asked me to come back out.”
“Soccer’s just such a fun sport to play and he’s just an overall good athlete and friend,” said Daniels, who has known Hayes since he came to Manchester schools in sixth grade. “We were lucky enough to get Fillipo (last year) but this season we didn’t have one (a keeper) so me and Owen went looking. We thought of Brayden, a 3-sport athlete and said, ‘why not?’ We brought him out for a couple sessions and he was really good.”
Daniels told The Sun Times that Whitney, Hayes, and himself went to the fields for a few weeks before the season began. They ran drills, shot on Hayes, and helped get the soccer IQ up for a player that hadn’t played since youth leagues and was never a keeper.
“We had to explain a lot of rules to him,” said Daniels. “Then Owen took him shopping to get gloves and other equipment and we were ready for the season.”
Hayes said that confidence booster and noticing how welcoming the team began to sway his mind. As a former catcher in baseball, Hayes said the prospect of the ball coming at him was something he was used to.
In his first conference game, the Dutchmen faced the Columbia Central Golden Eagles who had a talented forward who shattered scoring records for the school. The Dutchmen won 4-2.
“I was a little bit nervous, but a game is a game,” said Hayes on the conference opener. “I’m just going out there and having fun, I want to win at the same time.”
“I got a lot of my learning in game when I made mistakes,” said Hayes with a smile. “There was always Owen (Whitney) and Reese (Dresch) on the back line telling me what to do, when I should come forward. When I made mistakes, they helped me.”
As the season progressed, Daniels saw the improvement too, but for other reasons.
“Brayden’s improvement from beginning to end was all mental in my opinion,” said Daniels. “He had the physical ability through the season but where he really improved was in his confidence and decision making. In our first few games that’s what I noticed, he was a little shaky and nervous (which is expected) but we basically coached him through it on the field and helped him out with some tricky situations, and towards the end of the season he was making great plays against great players.”
Dutchmen head coach Travis Baker didn’t see Hayes before the season began, his players told him Hayes would come out for the team, and his first look at him was seeing shots taken on him at the high school practice field just before the season began.
Baker told The Sun Times that, knowing from his team that Hayes was a three-sport athlete, he could see Hayes’ athleticism and ability before the season started and was impressed as the season went on.
Now, Hayes is preparing for other sports. His freshman and sophomore year he played basketball, last year he wrestled for the first time, and in the spring? He’ll be on the baseball diamond once again.
Looking back on his decision, Hayes was happy he came out to play soccer.
“I finally gave into it and it turned out to be way more fun than I thought it would be,” said Hayes. “I figured it was my senior year, just give it a try. I wish I did it all four years. “