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The Lowdown: Jen Hoy’s first pro season a busy one

Jen Hoy ended the NWSL season on a high note and looks forward to 2014 with the Chicago Red Stars. (Photo Courtesy NWSL)

Jen Hoy was not having a very good 22nd birthday.  She was stuck in bed with the flu.  Half a country away in Indianapolis the brand new women’s pro soccer league—the NWSL—was conducting its first college draft, but the Ivy League standout felt she had little chance of being selected.

“I wasn’t expecting much,” Hoy said.  “I wasn’t expecting to be drafted.  I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much when there is that sort of uncertainty.

“I knew a lot of friends who watched it on Twitter and I was following it myself but laying in bed with flu-like symptoms and not feeling really well.  Once I got drafted I got a ton of texts and calls from friends.”

At least one coach held thought far more of her on draft day.

“I thought that she might slip to the 4th round just because other people probably didn’t know who she was and coming out of the Ivy League and that stuff,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames, who coached against Hoy at the youth level, said.

Dames held the top pick in the draft and took Zakiya Bywaters.  He used his next two picks on outside back Rachel Quon and goalkeeper Taylor Vancil.  When it came time to open the 4th round, Hoy was still on the board and the Red Stars grabbed her with the 25th overall pick.

“I was ecstatic when she was there in the 4th round for us to take.”

Hoy could have played college soccer on a scholarship, but she turned those offers down to attend Princeton.  There are no athletic scholarships in the Ivy League and players are often overlooked as not having been good enough to play at more renowned athletic schools.

“Absolutely there is a stigma for all sports when you play in the Ivy League,” Hoy said. “But I really think it’s awesome when people come from something like that and people don’t expect much from you and you’re able to prove them wrong and show them that you have what it takes.  I’ve experienced that a couple of times so far.

“At the end of the day, Princeton for me was the best combination of academics and athletics and academics are No. 1 for me.  So that’s how I made my choice.”

Hoy’s choice to put academics over athletics did not end with selecting a college.  The NWSL season began in April and Hoy was intent on finishing her year at Princeton.  So she spent a week with the Red Stars during preseason and then went back to school to finish her economics degree with a minor in Spanish.

“I was there for the very beginning of preseason,” she said.  “I tried out for two weeks during preseason.  That was during my spring break from Princeton.  The team was everything I wanted.”

Breaking into a professional league straight out of college is difficult enough, so imagine how much tougher it was for Hoy, who did not have the benefit of a full training camp.  And while her teammates were familiarizing themselves with the new team and league, Hoy was hitting the books ahead of her June 4 graduation.  On June 5 she and her mom drove the 791 miles from Princeton to Chicago. (Sharing the driving they pulled it off in a single day.)  Eight days after that Hoy made her NWSL debut.

“It definitely took some time to assimilate back into the team, especially since I missed so much time with them,” the Sellersville, Penn., native said.  “But all of them were incredible.  They are great teammates and great people.  They helped me to get back into it as quickly as possible.”

A nagging quad injury further held up progress, but Hoy’s potential began to unlock on July 25 in Seattle.  She played 33 minutes off the bench that night and scored the lone Red Stars goal just after a deflating penalty miss by Inka Grings.  She played in every game the rest of the season, notching an assist to Grings in the August 3 return match against the Reign.  But it was Hoy’s grand finale that left Red Stars’ fans wanting more.

It was the final game of the NWSL regular season and the Red Stars were in Kansas City where the Blues needed a draw to finish 1st in the league.  The home side took an early lead and looked to go to halftime that way when Hoy made a move to tie the match.

“At some point I realized one of the center mids (Desiree Scott) had the ball,” Hoy recalled.  “And I was close enough to be able to pick it off of her and I did that and played kind of a one-two with Inka.  I opened up my hips and got into kind of the top, right corner of the goal.”

Scoring in the last game of the season is always nice, especially for a young player still very much in the developmental stages.  But Hoy was not done.  The match stayed 1-1 into stoppage time and the Blues looked to close it out and take the regular season championship.  But…

“It was another series of passes which resulted in Julianne Sitch playing a ball across their box.  It went through two of their defenders and I one-timed it into the back of the net.  I was just thinking that the defender that was closest to me was going to be able to close down the space if I took a touch.  So the one-time shot was my only option at that moment.”

Hoy’s second goal of the game gave Chicago a 2-1 win and dropped Kansas City to the No. 2 seed.

Two days later Hoy was named NWSL Player of the Week.  Asked if she would have believed that honor would come her way when she went back to Princeton to start the season, Hoy said:  “You know I don’t necessarily think that way.  I put the work in.  It was such a pleasant surprise.  I’m really honored to receive that sort of recognition.  Am I surprised? Absolutely.  Am I happy? Yes.  Am I satisfied? No.”

Hoy is not planning on any schooling during this offseason.  She wants to make a go at a full season with the Red Stars.

“I’m ready to come back for a full season and I’m excited for that.  In all aspects of my life and what I dedicate myself to, whether it’s academics or athletics, I want to make myself the best version of what I can be,” Hoy said.

Her coach, for one, has high hopes as to what the best version of Jen Hoy the soccer player can be.

“If she was with us the entire year,” he said, “I think she’s up challenging for the golden boot for the most goals scored in the season.  She can go right, she can go left, she can beat you off the dribble, she can beat you with pace.  She’s unselfish.  We’re just starting to scratch the surface of what she’s really going to be.  Because her sophistication level needs some work.  I knew what I was getting with her.

“I just don’t consider her a surprise.”

Euro qualifying begins

Two-time World Cup champion Germany made a bright start in their bid to regain the trophy, throttling Russia 9-0 in Saturday’s Group 1 opener.  Also on the weekend:  England handled Belarus, 6-0; Sweden took down Poland and Nikki Krzysik, 2-0; Austria beat Bulgaria, 4-0; Belgium beat Albania, 2-0; Switzerland clobbered Serbia 9-0; and Finland won 2-0 away to Kazakhstan.

We will dig deeper into the qualifying process for Canada 2015 in future editions of The Lowdown.

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