Haylee Niemann was the valedictorian of this year’s graduating class at Arbor View High, but none of her smarts were necessary to compute what the conclusion of the Aggies’ soccer season might have meant to her athletic career.
It could have marked the end of competitive soccer for the goalie who set the state’s all-time record for shutouts before her senior season.
“It wasn’t my first plan, but I knew if I didn’t get into MIT and got into Duke or Stanford, they are such high-level that I won’t play soccer,” Niemann said. “But I really wanted to.”
Arbor View’s season ended with a state-championship game loss to Bishop Gorman in November, leaving Niemann’s future in the sport in flux until April when the admissions letter arrived.
Niemann got into MIT.
She’ll play for the Engineers next year while pursuing a degree in engineering for one of the highest-rated colleges in the country.
“The application process for MIT was so time-consuming with all the essays,” Niemann said. “I had to take an SAT subject test and do MIT’s (Women’s Technology Program) last summer to prepare myself for getting in. It was so exciting to know all my hard work paid off.”
Niemann will accept the Female Scholar Athlete of the Year honors at the Sun Standout Awards at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the South Point Showroom. She’s no stranger to the event, as the Aggies’ soccer program was also up for awards in each of the show’s first two years.
They had won five straight state championships coming into this season, with Niemann in net for each of the last three despite having never played goalie consistently in youth soccer.
“Before her freshman year, we had no goalie and not one kid out there who wanted to do it, so we sat all the kids down and said, ‘Anyone want to try this? You’re probably going to have a chance to be on varsity if you do,’ ” Arbor View soccer coach Jay Howard said. “She reluctantly volunteered but was pretty scared to death during the majority of the season. But as the playoffs came, she grew in confidence to take on the role with a team that was already a two-time defending state champion. It showed remarkable character on her part.”
It wasn’t the last time Niemann would wow Howard. Initially sticking with her as a young goalie because of her towering stature — this year’s roster listed Niemann at 5-foot-11 — Howard came to learn she was perfect for the position in a number of other ways.
From selflessly volunteering to help his middle school-age son with math homework to seamlessly holding conversations with adults, Howard was impressed by little things Niemann would do on a near daily basis.
“We made her a team captain as a junior, which we’ve only ever done with a couple other kids because of her unique abilities all around,” Howard said.
As a captain, Niemann adopted the mindset of doing whatever she felt was best for her team. She had to demonstrate her commitment to that philosophy going into her senior season.
The position splits of the roster had shifted at Arbor View. The Aggies suddenly had two other capable goalies, but few proven defenders.
“I brought her in and told her this was her call,” Howard said. “If she wanted to keep chasing the record books and all that stuff, we would make it work. But she just wanted whatever helped the team, so she played out in the field her senior year out of necessity and really never thought twice about it.”
Niemann loves playing either position. She said she expected to play goalie at MIT, but the coaching staff told her they’d also consider her as a defender.
Howard wasn’t surprised that MIT was most intrigued with Niemann as a goalie prospect.
“You just don’t find girls with her length and athletic ability,” he said.
Niemann has been in contact with MIT coaches since her junior year, as they helped give her pointers on how to maximize her chances for admission into the school, which has an acceptance rate of less than 8 percent. It helped guide her toward the Women Technology Program, which lasted four weeks last summer and cemented Niemann’s desire to attend the school.
“I was living in the dorms, taking classes in all the buildings and getting to know the area,” Niemann said. “The Boston/Cambridge area is such a cool place. I loved it there. I knew this is where I want to be; this is what I want to do. It made me more comfortable.”
Although she has her mind set on engineering, Niemann is unsure on which area she’ll make her exact focus.
“I want to go explore my different options and then decide,” she said.
If Niemann takes to her engineering like soccer, she’ll be able to excel in any area in no time.