WSOC FEATURE: A breakout year on the pitch for Megan Day

Megan Day. Credit Matt Brown
Megan Day. Credit Matt Brown

By Bill Sheehan


When Megan Day joined the Cal State Fullerton women's soccer team last summer as a freshman defender, she expected to spend most of her time riding the bench. "I didn't expect to play much my first year," she said.
Her father Bob shared her viewpoint. "We went in with low expectations in regard to her playing time. I told Megan, 'Be happy for any minute you get.' "
She racked up a lot of minutes.
Impressed by Day's practice sessions and early-season performances, Titans head coach Demian Brown installed her as the team's permanent center back. She started 15 of 20 games and played a key role in the Titans' Big West Conference regular-season and tournament championships.
Last week, Day was named the Big West Women's Soccer Freshman of the Year. She also earned First Team All-Big West honors and was selected to the Big West All-Freshman team.
Titans assistant coach Kellan Wilson texted her with the news of the awards. "Coach Kellan wrote, 'Good job! I'm proud of you.' I was honestly shocked. There are so many talented freshmen on other teams. It is a great honor. My teammates make me look good," said Day, who hails from La Mirada.
"We have such a special and talented team. From the beginning, I knew we were going to do pretty well. We have a great group of seniors and leaders on the team. It made me want to work harder. I wanted to win the Big West for the seniors because they deserve it."

An undeclared freshman, Megan Day is leaning toward majoring in psychology with a minor in criminal justice. She envisions a career in law enforcement. 
(Photo by Bill Sheehan)
Win over Northridge secured NCAA bid
Day headed in a corner kick for the first goal in a 4-0 win over Cal State Northridge in the Big West tournament final, which secured the Titans (14-2-4, 5-0-3) a berth in the NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament. Fullerton will open tournament play at USC (14-4-1) on Saturday at 1 p.m. live on the Pac-12 Network.
The NCAA tournament features a field of 64 teams. The final four teams will play at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, with both the semifinals on Dec. 6 and the final Dec. 8 starting at 8:30 p.m. Fullerton and USC, which is a No. 2 seed, last met in the opening round of the 2015 NCAA
tournament. They tied 3-3, with USC advancing on penalty kicks.
"It's a really good match-up for us," said Brown, who has guided the Titans in six of their nine trips to the NCAA tournament. "It's a familiar group that we have seen and played on a couple different occasions. Our women are well-prepared mentally and go into this game with a tremendous amount of confidence."
Day agrees that the Titans are primed for their match at USC. "We have a motto: 'Every game is the most important game of the season.' We handle that game and make it to the next. USC is a great team. But I feel that our team is so special that we can beat them.
"Everyone I have been talking to is super-excited," she said. "We have such a great chemistry. We work so hard for each other. We want to show everyone what we can do."
Brown, who is in his 13th year as head coach, said Day has filled a void at center back, a defender who is tasked with covering players in the middle area of the field and in front of the goal. "Last year, we used a couple different people at center back. At the start of this season, we were using Delaney [Dombeck Lindahl] there out of position," he said.
Day 'proved her worth' early on, Brown says
"Megan was a highly recruited player and someone we were very excited about," said Brown. "Still, you are always a little hesitant to see if a freshman could do the job. But Megan seized the opportunity and proved her worth very early in the season. She has been fantastic the whole way.
"Megan is the complete package for a center back. She is aggressive, reads the game well, is a great one-on-one defender and her distribution is great both right and left."
The 18-year-old Day never considering redshirting this year. "At the beginning of the season, Demian told me things that I needed to work on, and I worked on them. And it helped me grow as a player. And I thank him so much for that. Demian, Kellan and [assistant coach] Stacey Webster have helped me grow into a starter."
One person who wasn't surprised by Day's play this season was teammate Maddie Bennett. The two, along with Day's older sister Natalie, led La Mirada High School to the 2016 CIF Division IV State Regional Championship. In fact, Bennett assisted on Day's game-winning goal in the CIF title game.
"I've known her growing up through soccer and mutual friends," said Bennett, who like Day was a First Team All-Big West pick. "Before Megan came in, she was asking me everything about the Fullerton program. She wanted to come in and be ready to be the best center back on the team."
"It feels like we have a solid piece that maybe we were missing. Megan rises to the occasion. She likes to control our play and has helped us become a whole, solid unit."
A reunion of La Mirada High alums
Day embraced the chance to play with Bennett again and said that was one of the reasons she chose to attend Fullerton. "We won the state championship at La Mirada High. That was really cool. But being here and winning again with her is even better," Day said.
She is proud of how the Titans defense jelled this season and credits starting outside defenders Lindahl and Meghan Schroh for making her job easier. "And [goalkeeper] Noa Schumacher has been great. She always backs us up. In our 3-5-2 formation, we dominate the whole midfield."
Day said she gravitated toward defense from the start. "I have always liked being a defender," she said. "I played some midfield in high school. It helped me become a better defender because I learned how to pace myself and see my way through the play in a crowd."
One of her biggest challenges this season has been learning to communicate with teammates during a match. "The center back is supposed to talk to everyone because they are all the way in the back and can see the whole field," said Day. "I have gotten better, but I still need to be
more vocal."
"It's also been tough facing people who are three or four years older than me. Obviously, that is an advantage they have. I try my hardest to be strong on the field and be a leader out there too."
Capitalizing on her 5-foot-9 stature, Day has headed in three goals off corner kicks this season, including two game-winners. The Titans lead the NCAA in corner kicks with 162 and average eight per match.
"That is something we have really emphasized – to get as many corner kicks as we can and finish on them. Going up and scoring on a corner kick is a great feeling because I am helping my team."
Born in Fullerton, Day grew up in La Mirada with her parents Bob and Amy and four siblings. Bob, who owns a calibration services company, played soccer in high school. Amy, a substitute teacher at La Mirada High School, was a prep softball player.
Day gave softball a try – she found it too slow – before switching to soccer at age 8. "My sister Natalie, who is two years older than me, had started playing soccer and I kind of just followed in her footsteps," she said.

At La Mirada High School, Megan Day won a state championship as a freshman and was named the Whittier Daily News Girls Soccer Player of the Year in her junior and senior years.
Lazers club coach 'taught me a lot of skills'
After starting out in AYSO, Day played for the Lazers Soccer Club in La Verne, Legends FC in Norco and Strikers FC in Anaheim. "Carlos Guerrero, the Lazers coach, taught me a lot of skills," said Day, who won a national championship with Legends.
A four-year starter at La Mirada High, her team won Suburban League championships in her first three seasons. Day, who served as a senior captain, was named the Whittier Daily News Girls Soccer Play of the Year in both her junior and senior years. Day earned First Team All-Suburban League honors as a sophomore and junior as well as Second Team All-CIF Division 2 as a sophomore and First Team as a junior.
"High school was a good experience," she said. "I was kind of the leader of the team. It taught me a lot how to deal with people. I feel I have brought that here as a center back. I've tried to take a leadership role but not step on too many toes."
"She has been playing a high level of soccer since she began with the clubs," said Bob Day. "We did a lot of driving around so she could face good teams. She is tall and fast, and that makes a difference. But she has worked very hard to become a technical player who is very good on the ball."
Bob Day said the family had begun researching possible colleges for his daughter when she committed to Fullerton early in her sophomore year at La Mirada High. "I had visited Cal State Fullerton with the Legends club and I had friends who had played for Damien. When I found out that he wanted me, I wanted to come here for sure."
Day, who is currently undeclared, is leaning toward majoring in psychology with a minor in criminal justice. She envisions having a career in law enforcement.

Megan Day competes for the La Verne-based Lazers Soccer Club. She later won a national championship as a member of Legends FC in Norco.
She is mom to an orange cat named Oliver
She lives in the dormitories and enjoys hanging out with her freshman teammates. An animal lover, Day has an orange cat named Oliver whom she calls "my son." But since animals aren't permitted in the dorms, she has to take a short drive home to visit him.
A country music fan, Day said she likes to sing "but I don't do it often." She plans to visit a Fullerton club in the coming months to give line dancing a try.
She attended Stagecoach last spring with her sister Natalie, who just finished her redshirt sophomore season on Cal State San Bernardino's soccer team. "We are both center backs, and we talk soccer all the time," said Day.
Brown, the Titans head coach, said he is counting on Day to be a driving force for the Titans in the years ahead. "Megan will get stronger because of what we do in the off-season and become more seasoned by studying video and growing as a player. We really want her to further develop her leadership skills. We want her to be not just a dominant soccer player but a dominant leader."
For Day, it's all about what she can do for the team. "Coming in to play has been an unbelievable feeling, especially because of how talented we are," she said. "It's just an honor to be on the field with them.
"The coaches and players have created such a fun environment here. But the practices are intense -- you work hard and get better every day," she said. "Seeing everyone on the field working hard makes me want to work harder. I want to be the hardest-working person on the team."




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