By Ray Hamill — Playing Olympic Development Program soccer has paid off in more ways than one for Eureka senior Maia Hales.
On Monday, the Loggers defensive standout signed a letter of intent to play for Division-II Hawaii Hilo after graduation next year, where she will join one of the top teams in the PacWest Conference.
And for Hales, the opportunity came about because of her association with the ODP, with Vulcans head coach Gene Okamura first noticing her while she was playing for the Cal North team at a tournament in Portland.
“He watched one of our games and he reached out to me after that and said he was super interested,” Hales said. “And he invited me out for a visit to kind of get a feel for it, and that’s what we did.”
For Hales, who received interest from several schools, the final decision was a relatively easy one after that August visit to Hawaii.
“I just loved the area and I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to do what I love to do there for four years,” she said. “I love the location of the school on the beach. I wanted to be close to the ocean.”
Hales enjoyed an outstanding high school career playing for the Loggers, who won a second straight Big 4 championship this fall and a third consecutive North Coast Section championship.
The senior has anchored one of the stingiest defenses in the area since breaking into the team as a freshmen.
“She’s dedicated to her craft,” he said. “She’s a student of the game and always wants to learn more and she’s willing to put in the hard work.
“She’s been a rock for us at the back, and for the last three years she’s been the best defender in our league.”
Hales, who started for the Loggers for the past four seasons, will continue to play a defensive role for her new team — a position she has played her entire career — and she’s hoping to quickly establish herself with the Vulcans,
“Going into a collegiate program, I know you have to work for it,” she said. “I’m looking to go in there and work any butt off and hopefully get that starting spot. I know I’m going to have work for it.”
The multi-sport Hales also plays basketball for the Loggers and has competed in track and field, but soccer has always been her favorite sport since she first picked up a ball at age 5.
And she’s been playing alongside some of the same teammates for several years, a class of very talented seniors that closed out with a bang this season.
“What I’ll remember most is this group of girls I got to play with and obviously going out with three NCS wins,” she said. “That was definitely a memorable moment. That last year was definitely memorable.”
Hales follows in the footsteps of her older sister Brynn, a junior who plays for Southern Oregon University and someone who has been a big influence on the younger sibling.
She also credited her parents — Geoff and Jen — for helping her on her soccer journey, and her father was one of her first coaches.
“They’ve gotten me to where I am and given me the opportunity to be able to be seen and they’ve supported me,” she said of her family.
Hales wants to major in Biology.