RYAN BLAKE | Evergreen reporter
Utah Valley (3-3) took a 2-1 lead on an improbable 30-yard strike with seven minutes left to play. Desperate for an equalizer with time running out, senior defender Jordan Branch served a long ball into the box, hoping to find someone at the end.
The ball found Maddy Haro — or, more accurately, Maddy Haro found the ball.
Haro fought her way from the top of the 18-yard box to get on the end of it, deflecting a header past the keeper into the bottom right corner from six yards away. Thirty-two seconds remained on the clock when she netted her second goal of the game.
It was the one that kept the Cougars alive long enough to defeat Utah Valley in double overtime.
Haro is a part of a defensive group that has allowed the fewest goals in the Pac-12 this season. She began playing left back on her club team in high school, where Head Coach Todd Shulenberger first saw her compete.
But she did not start on defense.
Haro played forward in high school before moving to an attacking midfield role her freshman year with the Cougars.The position requires her to be defensive-minded first, but allows her to get forward on the wings and contribute offensively — something Haro is naturally comfortable with from her days as an attacker, she said.
The Southern California native admitted she is not the quickest player on the team, but said she has gotten a lot stronger thanks to a new training program. Her strength was on full display as she held off a defender during her goal-scoring run against the Wolverines.
Haro is known for her powerful left foot, an asset the Cougars utilize on set pieces. Her first goal of the season came on a penalty kick at St. Mary’s. Her first assist came on a free kick against Santa Clara.
“She’s got a great left foot,” Shulenberger said of Haro. “Defensively, she does her job, but offensively, she gets involved, and we want our outside backs to get forward, and she’s absolutely supplying that for us.”
Haro leads the Cougars with three assists and is second on the team with three goals.During the Cougar Classic, she was a key factor in shutting out No. 14 Nebraska, helping hold the Cornhuskers to just seven shots. Two days later, she helped lead WSU to another shutout, adding two assists in a 5-0 route of Georgia Southern.
Her performance over the weekend did not go unnoticed, as she was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week.
A double major in multimedia journalism and public relations, Haro said balancing soccer and school is especially difficult with all the time her team spends on the road.
“I have to make sure that I’m constantly caught up,” Haro said. “I have to teach myself certain things, and that goes for everybody.”
She said flights do not get in until after midnight if they are lucky. Often, the team flies into Spokane after a Sunday game, before making the hour-plus drive back to Pullman.
Late nights turn into early mornings for the team. Haro said she often wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to get to practice during the week.
“You don’t get to sleep in a lot,” Haro said. “It’s exhausting, but we make it work.”
All that hard work could pay off in a big way for the Cougars this year. With a 5-1-2 record heading into conference play, Haro said her team is exuding confidence.
“Right now, we’re feeling really good as a team,” she said. “I think our big goal is to focus on the positives, focus on getting better. I think we’re in a better spot than we were last year.”
As a stalwart on a defense that has shutout its opponents in six of eight games, Haro, along with her teammates, will need to continue stifling opponents to stay relevant in a conference that has four schools represented in the top-25.
But Haro said she looks forward to facing the best team the country has to offer.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” she said, “but I’m really excited to play against the best competition, and I’m sure all the other girls are too.”