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‘A small fish in a big pond’: How Megan Haines found her way at OSU

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OSU forward Megan Haines dribbles the ball during the Oklahoma State vs. Iowa State soccer match on Friday, September 18, 2020 at Neal Patterson Stadium in Stillwater.

Every soccer team does 1v1’s a little differently, but the function remains the same. Like a craftsman superheating gold in a crucible to remove impurities, the soccer drill refines players.

When Oklahoma State brings the goals in at practice, the heat is applied. Players crowds around the shrunken field to watch two players square off.

It’s a simple drill. There is no one to pass to, and only one defender to beat.

In the soccer version of a crucible, there is only pressure. There’s no hiding.

“If you’re one step off, they are going to go right past you,” defender Ally Jackson said. “You definitely get exposed for sure.”

Weariness grows with every oncoming challenger looking to knock off the champion.

“It’s pretty physically demanding,” coach Colin Carmichael said. “We want to see who can compete.”

For Megan Haines, that drill was an informal introduction to Division I soccer.

“We did this drill that everyone still talks about where we had to run around the field when your team was out,” Haines said. “It was challenging.”

She checked in as a 5-foot-4 walk-on. Her pool of opponents consisted of players three years older and three inches taller than her.

The first practices of Haines’ OSU career were critical.

“(I was) just trying to stay with the team and make an impact the best that I could for a first impression,” Haines said.

Haines was not the only nervous one when she started the drill.

“When you get a freshman like Megan who steps in there, right off the bat you look at her and think, ‘Man she might get hurt against some of these 21-year-old women,’” Carmichael said.

When the drill got underway, however, Haines showed that the only people with the right to be nervous were those that underestimated the undersized walk-on.

“She just goes in and competes,” Carmichael said. “That makes an impression on the coaches right off the bat.”

Those that knew Haines, may not have been surprised at the fight she showed that day.

“Opposing teams looked at her and said, ‘Oh, I got this,’ but she shut everybody down,” said Amanda Jo Johnson, the Jenks girls soccer coach.

The tenacity acquired through challenging battles molded Haines into a player who could enter a ring of Division I athletes and compete successfully.

Haines made the team.

“It was really exciting,” Haines said. “Especially my parents, they were super excited and happy for me. It’s phenomenal, it was super exciting to tell them.”

After all, making the team was, at least for a time, not something even she expected.

The decision

When Megan Haines toured OSU before her freshman year in 2019, her mind was set.

“I knew I always wanted to come here,” Haines said. “Both my parents came to OSU. I always knew I would come here.”

Playing soccer, though, was not initially in the plans. Fortuitously for both Haines and Carmichael, plans change.

“Going back a couple years ago, for different reasons we ended up a little low on numbers,” Carmichael said. “We were in a situation where we were trying to add maybe two or three additional players.”

Around the same time Haines was touring classrooms, a conversation took place that would shape her future.

Carmichael and the OSU coaching staff were talking with Richard Beattie, who coached Haines’ club team, about the vacancies.

Beattie coached Haines and decided to reach out to OSU.

“We talked to Megan and then they came over and took a little visit and hung out with us and we explained the opportunity that she would get,” Carmichael said.

An opportunity to walk on.

Ever since exploding onto the scene as a sophomore at Jenks, Haines was a spectacular player for the Trojans.

“Freshman year we knew it was there, Johnson said. “It just wasn’t quite time yet.”

There were a lot of good players in front of Haines, and she had not developed into the force she became.

“I think going through that helped her develop that hunger and chip on her shoulder,” Johnson said. “Then that sophomore year it clicked, and she’s taken off ever since.”

Haines was a multi-year all-district performer in high school and earned all-state accolades her senior year.

There were conversations with Haines about playing college soccer. Others around her had done it, and she had progressed impressively.

“By her junior year — we always have Division I players and people who go onto the next level — she was just slicing through them,” Johnson said.

Trojan teammates of Haines signed at ORU and UCO. Another player she played with, Haley Ledford, even went to OSU.

A strong senior year helped Haines establish herself in college soccer, but she had rounded into top form too late for most schools to offer her.

Haines knew where she wanted to go to college and was willing to take her chances with soccer at OSU.

“You can go be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond and go take it,” Johnson said. “She never backs down from a challenge.”

Carmichael was honest with Haines about the prospects of walking on. He could promise an opportunity. Nothing else.

“You could come here, earn minutes, play, get on the field, start, whatever,” Carmichael said. “But you could also be No. 30 on the bench and never get on the field.”

Carmichael was not necessarily looking for a player who would play when he signed Haines. he just wanted numbers, and good people.

“We talked with Megan and her family and it was more about that than the actual playing side of things,” Carmichael said.

It turned out that Haines possessed the intangibles to join the team, and the very tangible skills to become a difference-maker.

“To get a kid who can actually come in and compete is a bonus,” Carmichael said.

Haines earned the respect of her teammates immediately.

“She’s one of those players that you can’t help but notice,” senior wingback Hannah Webb said.

The goal heard around the state

The ball shot across the UTEP goalie box, going from left to right until it was deflected by a foot.

Haines’ sliding foot, the next thing the ball contacted was the net.

In her sophomore year, it was the first goal of Haines’ career.

Jumping up with both hands raised, Haines was swarmed by teammates.

“I had always been waiting for that moment…it was really cool to see my hard work pay off,” Haines said.

Haines had come a long way from the person who did not plan on a post-high school career. She saw significant minutes in almost every game of the 2020-21 season and was put on scholarship.

“She came in here as a walk-on and earned everybody’s respect for her work ethic and how hard she plays the game,” Carmichael said.

Her story permeates beyond OSU.

“She’s actually setting the tone for other players (at Jenks),” Johnson said. “Just because you’re not getting looks doesn’t mean there’s not opportunities to go out there and play at a high level.”

The Trojans watched OSU’s game against UTEP from their bus when traveling back from a match against Deer Creek. Seeing Haines score was a moment Johnson will treasure forever.

“Those are those moments that are way better than rings and trophies,” Johnson said.

When looking at Haines’ story, some might point to good fortune. Others point elsewhere.

“Megan Haines is generally always the hardest worker on the field,” Olyvia Dowell said.