MADISON — Two years ago, Lauren Hay wasn’t even a goalkeeper. On Saturday, she has the chance to lead Madison Area Memorial High School to its first state championship of any kind in soccer.

The former back turned senior keeper has proven a quick study as the Bulldogs prepare to face Houlton for the Class C girls soccer championship at Hampden Academy.

“I wanted to make it to states,” Hay said. “Hopefully, we can win.”

Madison featured a strong unity last season, playing all the way to the regional semifinals. If there were a weakness in the team’s starting 11, it was Hay. Through hard work and a practice-makes-perfect mentality, Hay rose from an adequate first-year goalkeeper to an exceptional seasoned one this fall. The Bulldogs have posted 10 shutouts entering the state final, with Hay playing the best soccer of her career over the last three weeks.

In the Class C South regional final on Wednesday at Monmouth, Hay made 14 saves — including 10 in the first half alone to keep the Bulldogs in a tie contest.

“She did a decent job last year, but she wouldn’t have been able to get to the kinds of shots she got to this season,” Madison co-coach Mike Walsh said. “She got better and better as the season progressed. She managed to do that (against Monmouth) without being challenged in most of our games.”

In a top-heavy Mountain Valley Conference, too often Madison wasn’t tested. The final third of the season proved the exception to the rule, however, with Hay shutting out Class B South No. 2 seed Oak Hill, diving to stop two penalty kicks in a regional semifinal win over Traip and then turning in the effort she did against Monmouth.

It’s been quite the turnaround for the daughter of former Madison goalkeeper April Linkletter.

“We worked at practices with her on her goalkeeping. She was dedicated at doing that, and she did everything pretty well,” Walsh said. “The piece that she never developed was the ability to launch herself sideways and go after balls. That was absent. She didn’t have it most of this year — but in that Oak Hill game, she finally made that transition and became what I think is a complete goalie.

“Now she’s gone from being a good goalie to being an elite goalie.”

Try convincing Hay of that, though, and she might quibble with it. She’s equal parts honest and self-effacing, often admitting to both confidence and nerves in post-game conversations.

“Some of the teams we play in the regular season don’t really challenge us as much as a team like (Monmouth),” Hay said. “Games like that are really important in that we get up and get more intensity. It really helps me get into the game.”

Walsh said that a big part of Hay’s success comes from being a self-starter.

Early in the season, Hay was battling an illness. He urged her to take a day off, to take a sick day and get some sleep. She declined, pointing out that she had school commitments — including running a fundraiser — and couldn’t afford to ignore her responsibilities.

“I’ve always thought goalies had to be just a little bit crazy, and she’s not,” Walsh said. “Not visibly, anyway. But she’s determined. She’s got a determination.”

On Saturday, Hay is determined to turn in one more big effort to lift the Bulldogs to history.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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