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Sarah Hagen has led the UWM women's soccer team to conference championships in each of her first three seasons. (PHOTO: UWM Athletics)

Milwaukee Talks: UWM soccer player Sarah Hagen

In just three years on the Milwaukee Panthers women's soccer team, Sarah Hagen has become arguably the best soccer player in Horizon League history and one of the better players in the country.

Hagen had another stellar year for the Panthers last year. As just a junior, she repeated as Horizon League Player of the Year, and was All-League First Team and League Tournament MVP for the third-straight season. Hagen led the Horizon League in goals (19) for the third-straight season and points (44) for the second. By the middle of her junior year, she had already broken school and league records for career goals and points.

Hagen, an Appleton native, has not had an easy road to soccer stardom. Her determination to fight through cancer has carried through to her play on the field and led her to the doorstep of the United States women's national team.

After a heartbreaking double overtime home loss to Marquette on Fox Soccer Channel last week, the Panthers bounced back, defeating Wisconsin with an overtime goal from Hagen in the 97th minute.

Heading into conference play, the Panthers are ranked eleventh in the Soccer America poll. The ranking is a new school record. recently had the opportunity to sit down with Hagen to talk about her journey, UWM soccer and where she plans to go from there. You've certainly had a long journey before coming to UWM. Can you walk us through your high school experience?

Sarah Hagen: I started out freshman year unable to play because I had cancer. I guess that was kind of a big deal, not being able to play my freshman year. I wasn't sure how my high school career was going to go after that. I knew I was going to make varsity, I had already known that, coach told me. And then he asked me if I was able to get back on the field sophomore year.

I mean, high school is high school. I was more into club soccer at the time. I was playing with FC Milwaukee and Brookfield. That really helped me develop as a player more than anything else. That's how I got noticed by Mike Moynihan (UWM Women's head soccer coach), was by playing with FC Milwaukee.

OMC: Why UWM? What attracted you to the university?

Hagen: The reason I chose UWM was because of the coaches. I knew a bunch of the girls previous to coming here. I played with Nicole Sperl, Sarah Talbert, Heather Roadhouse, Nicole Hirsch and a few others with Brookfield. Having that relationship with them helped a lot in my decision making. I had Mike as an ODP (Olympic Development Program) coach, so I was used to his style and I liked that.

Also, the location of UWM was a factor. It's only an hour and a half away from Appleton. My parents are able to make every game; my parents haven't missed one home or away game in my entire college career.

OMC: What did you know about UWM, both the university and the team, before you got here?

SH: Mike had mentioned, in our recruiting visits, their previous success in tournaments and the Horizon League. I knew it was a very good program for our league and I knew that they wanted broaden their level of play and try to get better nationally.

I think that's the biggest thing we've worked on since I've been here is trying to get more recognition nationally. I think it's starting to come; especially this year, we've been having a really good year so far. Before I got here, I didn't know too much. I knew it would be a step above what I had been playing with previously.

OMC: Can you explain to readers the significance of the new Laura Moynihan Field?

SH: First off, Engelmann Field used to be a grass field. Now it's changed to Laura Moynihan Field at Engelmann Stadium. That was Mike's mom; she helped to build girls' soccer in Milwaukee and throughout the state. It's something that's really close to his heart, our whole team and alumni.

Having the grass field was, um, interesting. We weren't able to practice on it, we had to go down to the lakefront. Well, my freshman year, we were at the lakefront. Sophomore year we were still there. Junior year we had to go to Bradley Tech to practice. We've had practices at Shorewood High School, so just the jumping around to different fields is hard on a team. Especially if you don't get to practice on your home field.

This way, with the turf field, we're able to practice on it as much as we want. It also helped this summer; we were able to train there as much as we wanted. As far as the field goes, it's a FIFA Two-Star rating. That's the highest rating a field can get. The coaches did a lot of studying of fields in Europe, checking out the different playing surfaces and finding what they liked. They definitely put a lot of thought into the field before they decided what to put in.

OMC: How has the installation of the field changed your game?

SH: Playing on turf is a little bit different. It plays a lot faster, but you always know that there's going to be a good bounce. You're not going to get a weird pock in the field or anything like that. Then again, going to different stadiums, not everyone has turf fields. People on our team have noticed, this year especially, that when we go back to play on a grass field, your legs feel heavier because the turf is so much easier to run on. And the ball doesn't always roll the way we're used to since we normally play on a turf field.

I enjoy playing on turf, once I got used to it. I mean, you get turf burns, but that's alright.

OMC: What about the team as a whole? Has the new turf dictated the style of play?

SH: I think we're able to play a little bit faster. We're crisper with our passing. Hopefully that doesn't change the way we go into games when we play on grass. I think, as a team, you don't really change that much. The style we play hasn't changed that much, it's just the pace that we're able to play at. It's gotten a lot faster.

OMC: What are you expecting out of the Panthers this season? What's the ultimate goal?

SH: We have to make it past the first round of the NCAA Tournament. That's our biggest goal, I think. We obviously don't want to skip or overlook the Horizon League by any means, we've been successful since I've been here and previous to that in winning the Horizon League regular season. We've also won the conference tournament every year since I've been here. Something that, as a senior class, we would really like to do before we graduate and we're done playing is to win an NCAA Tournament game.

I think we're definitely capable. We've shown this season that we're more than capable of playing teams that we would face in the tournament.

OMC: What's your status with the US Women's National Team?

SH: I haven't done anything with the actual national team, but I've played with the U-23 national team. I've done camps since the spring of my sophomore year. Doing those camps has really helped me with my confidence and playing at a faster pace. That's the biggest thing I've notice going from college to the U-23s is that the pace of the game is so much faster. It's a lot more physical too, especially the international games. I have a camp coming up. I leave October 2 and come back October 7.

I really enjoy going to those camps, it's fun playing with all the different college girls. I've made some great relationships with the people along the way. It's just a really good experience.

OMC: How far away is the U-23 team from the US Women's National Team?

SH: It's probably the step below the full national team. You pretty much get "called-up" from that team, or WPS (Women's Professional Soccer League) players, they will get called up also for the full team. Definitely a lot of U-23 players have been called up. From my understanding of this camp I'm going to in October; Pia, the head coach for the women's team and others like Jill and April, and a lot of the head coaching staff for the full team are going to be there. They're looking for players that they want to call up for the next full team camp. So hopefully I have a good camp and can get called up. That's always been a dream of mine.

OMC: Do you have a message for Milwaukee? Anything you would like people to know?

SH: Come support the Panthers, our women's soccer program really appreciates when people come out and watch us play. I know that other athletic teams here at UWM would like the same.


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