By Mark Wishnia, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Redshirt sophomore Ayla Halus was awarded the starting job just prior to the season opener against No. 16 Old Dominion. She wasted no time in showing why she deserved the honors.
Halus and the rest of the field hockey squad went into the first game against the16th-ranked team in the nation with high energy and focus as the Nittany Lions cruised to a 4-0 victory over the Monarchs.
Ayla Halus was handed head coach Char Morett's player of the game award after her facility record 13 saves in the first game of the season.
"Ayla Halus was amazing, outstanding, incredible, every adjective I can find," Morett said following the game against Old Dominion.
The redshirt sophomore's standout performance put legendary Coach Morett within just three wins of number 400.
The season-opening shutout was in jeopardy on Friday evening, but Halus held her ground with a superb effort down the stretch. With roughly 2:30 remaining in the game, a hard shot came from Halus' right with Old Dominion's Paige Clutter on the doorstep, ready to put the ball home. However, a fully laid out Halus reached with her stick and knocked the ball aside to keep the shutout alive.
Halus was all over the place in the first game of 2010 en route to sending every ball that went her way aside, which included a plethora of highlight-caliber saves. The effort was not unnoticed by her teammates. Kelsey Amy had two goals in the first game, but was in awe over the performance displayed by the young goalkeeper.
"She had one save down there, where I swear, she grew an arm out of her back and just swiped it out of the cage. It was crazy," Amy said. "We might as well just build a brick wall in front of the cage and call it Ayla because that's what she was. It was incredible. I was in awe. She should be on the national team, that girl. "
On Sunday, Halus turned in another strong performance in net, despite the 3-0 loss to No. 3 Virginia. One of the most notable plays was with just under 18 minutes to go in the second half.
Cavalier junior midfielder Paige Selenski, who scored earlier in the game, had possession of the ball in her own end. She took the ball down the left side weaving in and out of Penn State defenders. After a shifty inside move past senior co-captain Daneen Zug, there was only one player left to beat. Halus charged well out of her cage into a full dive to deny Selenski her second goal of the game.
Halus understands the fact that field hockey is a team game, however. After the first game of the weekend, she gave credit where credit was due.
"My defense was talking to each other, I was talking to them, they were responding, we were talking to our midline so that way our midline could talk to our forward line and all that communication on the field throughout the whole 70 minutes of the game, made my job easier," Halus said. "'Cause all I had to do was watch the ball and save it when I needed to."
Despite the loss in the second game, Halus was happy with the play of her team and is looking forward to improving as they move forward.
"I think we played pretty well," said Halus. "I think we played against a really good team."
Halus was awarded the starting job position after a strong preseason. Ali Meves, the reigning Big Ten saves leader, battled Halus for playing time. Nonetheless, Halus developed the skills necessary to compete at a high level and earned the starting job in camp. After the exhibition game at Maryland, the decision was easy for Coach Morett.
"She had a great game vs. Maryland and it really was an easy decision to put Ayla in the cage," Morett said.
Halus had double digit saves in each game of the opening weekend. Her 13 saves in game one, set a record for the Penn State Field Hockey Complex, which opened six years ago. The talented goalkeeper set aside ten shots in the second game.
The Nittany Lions will travel to Connecticut on Friday to face No. 5 UConn before returning home to face Lock Haven on Sept. 12.