(Courtesy of Olivia Wright)

Mairin Halama’s father, a college baseball player, always wanted to buy his daughter a pair of softball cleats. Instead, Halama followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a standout soccer player, and the Mill Creek (Hoschton, Ga.) senior has thrived this season as the team’s goalkeeper.

On Thursday evening, in the Georgia 7A state semifinal, Halama found herself in an unusual place — the sideline. She had suffered an injury in the first half and then watched as the Hawks played Walton (Marietta) to a draw through two overtimes, prompting a shootout.

That’s when the crowd heard the announcement over the loudspeaker: Substitution, Mill Creek: Mairin Halama.

Hawks fans roared with excitement.

Each team converted their first three penalty kicks, and on Walton’s fourth attempt, the Raiders player looked left. She couldn’t trick Halama. Halama lunged to her right to make the save, setting the stage for teammate Karina Pashkovets to convert the game-winning goal and send Mill Creek to its first state championship.

In addition to the clutch save, Halama three days earlier secured her seventh straight shutout, earning her JWS Player of the Week honors.

With Halama as the backstop, the No. 11 Hawks finished the regular season with a 15-4 record and allowed just six goals. Her success is even more impressive considering this is only her second season in net.

In 2021, the Hawks needed a goalkeeper. Coach Vince Hayes turned to the then-forward in part because he knew of Halama’s prowess on the basketball court.

“You are good with your hands. Why don’t you give it a try?” Hayes said.

Halama chuckled, but took it as a compliment. She spent hours mimicking her coaches and, halfway through that season, she became the Hawks’ starting goalkeeper. A year later, she still gets nervous before games, but it doesn’t last long.

“Once the ball is in my hands, all of the nerves go away. Everything else goes out the window and I just focus on that moment,” she said.

Hayes is hardly surprised by Halama’s success.

“It just clicked. She has good foot skills, and her punts and range are terrific in passing,” Hayes said. “Combine that with her basketball skill and agility, it was almost as if she was made for it.”

The state championship is May 6, meaning Halama’s soccer career will soon come to a close. In the fall, she’ll attend Georgia Southern and study exercise science.

In college, she plans to try on a new kind of cleats — a version her father has waited 14 years to buy. Halama plans to play softball.

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.