Aysiah Maldonado said there wasn't one time during the game — not during regulation or two overtimes or penalty kicks — when she actually felt nervous.
Maldonado is a freshman.
But even during the postgame interview — moments after the most intense, emotional stretch in the history of Audubon soccer — she was poised, relaxed even.
"I just felt ready to go. I know if we come in nervous, we won't be ready to play," said Maldonado, whose heroic performance in net helped helped lead the Audubon girls' soccer team to its first-ever state championship Sunday afternoon at Kean University.
Audubon and Glen Ridge were scoreless through regulation and two overtimes before the Green Wave prevailed, 4-2, in a round of penalty kicks.
It capped a remarkable season by an Audubon team that started just two upperclassmen. All season the team was led largely by freshmen and sophomores who played above their grade level while leading Audubon to just its second-ever South Jersey Group 1 title and first appearance in the state championship game.
"With this team it doesn't matter what grade someone is in — they're magical," said Audubon coach Bill Scully. "We've had some great wins over the years, but there's nothing better than the state championship."
It took a heroic performance by Maldonado just to push the game into penalty kicks. Glen Ridge (11-8-2) was the aggressor through much of the game and dominated possession in the second half and overtime, forcing Maldonado to make 11 saves. They included a diving stop with just under two minutes remaining in the second overtime.
"We definitely had to weather the storm," Scully said.
In penalty kicks, Maldonado not only knocked away the final shot to seal the win, she also made the team's third penalty kick.
"Coming into the playoffs, I wasn't going to take them, but then [Scully] was like, 'I believe in you,' " Maldonado said. On her save on the final penalty kick, Maldonado noted that: "usually before they take a penalty kick, people look where they're not going, and she looked to the left, so I had a gut feeling to go right. And as soon as she kicked it, I was there. It was amazing."
Maddie Spink, Mackenzie Rapa-Slover, and Quinci Bantle also made penalty kicks for Audubon (18-4-2).
Aside from Maldonado's save on the final shot, Glen Ridge also clanked its second shot off the post.
The penalty kicks underscored the poise of the young Green Wave. The team faced a more experienced opponent and weathered injuries throughout the game, including to Spink and leading scorer Emily Owens.
But when it was over, they were champions.
"It's a great feeling," Maldonado said. "Audubon is a little school. But I wanted to show that we can do big things."
Audubon 0 0 0 0 (4) — 0
Glen Ridge 0 0 0 0 (2) — 0