Monday, 24 June 2019 22:35

Hayden scores eventual gold medal-winning goal in Powerade State Games

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Richmond's Lee Hayden smiles with his Powerade State Games gold medal following the weekend tournament. Richmond's Lee Hayden smiles with his Powerade State Games gold medal following the weekend tournament. Contributed photo.

CHARLOTTE — Although he was playing at Queens University over the weekend in the Powerade State Games of North Carolina, Lee Hayden and the South team were the kings of the soccer field.

Hayden, a rising senior on Richmond Senior High School’s soccer team, helped the South squad go undefeated during the two-day tournament and win the 2019 championship. The lone Raider to play in this year’s PSG, Hayden saw the tournament as both a fun and skill-building experience, and added that winning a gold medal was a nice touch.

Coached by Will Hurley, Mount Airy High School’s head soccer coach, the South team went 3-0 on the weekend. Stacked with 20 players from high schools from around the southern part of the state, Lee explained the tryout process was tough.

“I wanted a different playing experience that was more competitive,” Hayden said of why he went out for the team. “I had three different tryouts and there were about 40 people who were there. They had to cut about half of them, but after I made team and settled in, I played well.”

Hayden tried out for the team starting with the first workout on May 19 at Ledford High School, and followed up with tryouts at Phillips Park Soccer Complex (June 2) and the Greensboro Sportsplex (June 9). 

Looking for more experience with higher quality players and coaches, Hayden explained that several of his PSG teammates compete in the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL), which is one of the top club leagues in the state. He added that the collective playing experience, coupled with the team’s couple of practices before the tournament, led to the championship.

To open the PSG on Saturday, the South team edged the East team 3-2. Hayden and company followed up with a 3-0 shutout over the West team in their second game of the day.

Unlike several others sports in the PSG like basketball, baseball and softball, which often have six or more teams in play, the soccer tournament didn’t have a playoff bracket. That made Sunday’s finale against the North squad the championship game.

Used as a defender for head coach Chris Larsen at Richmond, Hayden slid up and played center attacking midfielder in the state games. He would use his speed to score the eventual championship-winning goal as part of a 3-0 win over the North team.

Around the 20th minute in the first half, Hayden happened to be in the right place at the right time to score the game’s first goal. He collected a deflected ball and one-timed a shot that sailed past North’s goalkeeper into the lower right corner of the goal.

“It feels great to win a gold medal,” Hayden said. “I wanted my (Richmond) buddies to be there, but I made new friends and it was a lot of fun. The whole thing was a great experience because I got to play with and against some really competitive soccer players.

“All the other teams we played were also really good,” he continued. “But I think we had the best connection out of all of them. We had several practices which let us form good chemistry and that helped us connect passes and play well.”

Of his goal, which was his only of the tournament, Hayden added, “it was so hype when it went in… the team really gained momentum from that point on.”

Richmond’s summer workouts began last week, and Hayden is going to be expected to step up and assume a leadership role for the Raiders this fall. And while the PSG were a fun experience that let him get better on the field, he also said he felt the tournament will make him a better leader for the Raiders.

“Playing in the Powerade State Games allowed me to play faster because everyone knows his position really well,” Hayden said. “Because of that, I was able to focus on myself and how I played in the game. Our team’s connection made things easier and allowed me to try and play to the best of my ability.

“I really think this experience is going to help me lead the team better this fall,” he closed. “We want to play at a higher standard (at Richmond) and this can help with that. I would strongly suggest playing in the state games if someone is considering it.”

Kyle Pillar

Sports Editor. IUP communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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