Haley Smith of Fall River, who plays goal for the ISU Redbirds was a big winner at the Missouri Valley Sports awards. (Submitted photo)

NORMAL, ILL.: Haley Smith is leaving a good first impression in her freshman year with the Illinois State University women’s soccer team.

Smith, from Fall River, started every conference and tournament game with the ISU Redbirds, who were ranked fourth coming into the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) season.

She said the Redbirds didn’t let that pre-season ranking deter them from their number one goal.

“We knew we could win it all and compete in the NCAA tournament,” Smith said on Nov. 9. “We trained hard and pushed each other and it is remarkable to see the progress we have made and that hard work pays off.”

ISU Redbirds goalie Haley Smith of Fall River in action in a photo from her twitter. (Submitted photo)
ISU Redbirds goalie Haley Smith of Fall River in action in a photo from her twitter. (Submitted photo)

In her rookie season, Smith was named to the All-Freshman Team and was named as an honourable mention for the All-MVC Second All Star Team.

“It truly is an honour to come in and have an impact as a freshman,” said the graduate of Shattuck St. Mary’s. “I’m honoured to receive my awards because I am able to represent my team and my country.”

The 18-year-old, who is studying Exercise Science, said winning the MVC regular season championship and the tournament has left her with an amazing feeling.

“From the beginning of my time here, we set out to prove to the conference that we are the best team in the MVC,” said Smith. “We did just that.”

She talked about the regular season and tournament finals being both against Evansville—both times the final score read 2-1 after they trailed 1-0 after the first half.

“Close games are always nerve racking, but I never doubted my team in either game,” she said.

Smith said when she saw her team score the second goal in the tournament final, she knew what her job was for the remainder of the game—keep it that way.

“I was ecstatic when I saw that we scored and took the lead,” she said. “But part of being a goalkeeper is managing emotions and managing the team. Even though we were leading we had to keep the lead.

“You can never get comfortable, especially with only a one goal lead. So I celebrated the goal but made sure that my teammates and myself remained focused because the game was not over.”

The Redbirds went undefeated during the season in conference play with a spotless 5-0-1 (won-loss-tied) record. Combine that with their non-conference play where they were 9-5-1 (won-loss-tied), they finished at 14-5-2.

“Winning the MVC tournament is the only way our team can make it into the NCAA tournament,” said Smith.

Smith explained what the Redbirds would have to do against Michigan when the two teams meet on Nov. 12 in order to advance further.

“Michigan is definitely a team to respect, but they are not unbeatable, especially for us,” she said. “At the start of the regular season, my team competed against Notre Dame and only lost 1-0. We also played some of Michigan’s conference rivals, Wisconsin and Illinois,and only lost 1-0.

With Smith in the U.S. she had a chance to see first-hand the reaction when Donald Trump was elected as the country’s new President over heavily favoured—and expected winner—Hillary Clinton. So what was her take on it all?

“There is a lot of talk of the election, especially on social media,” she said. “Everyone predicted and expected that Hillary would win, but Trump did a lot better than many people imagined.

“Everyone here is just as surprised as everyone in Canada.”

The Redbirds defeated Michigan 3-2 on penalty kicks on Nov. 12 in round one to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament championship.

In the second round game against Duke, the Redbirds came up short losing 3-1 to the third ranked team in the NCAA. According to the stats website, Smith faced 13 shots, making 10 saves.

With the loss the Redbirds are eliminated from further play.