Champions, history makers and soon-to-be pros: Madison Haley and Kiki Pickett reflect on soccer careers

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Women’s soccer senior Madison Haley was watching the 2021 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) draft on Jan. 13 with her teammates, unsure of whether she would hear her name called. As the midway point of the first round approached, so did her next Zoom class.

“I was like, I’ve got two minutes so if they’re gonna call my name they got to call me right now,” she recalled.

And then, she saw it: “7th overall pick: Madison Haley, Stanford University.” The Chicago Red Stars snagged the Cardinal’s star center forward, just three picks after Kansas City chose senior defender Kiki Pickett with the fourth overall choice.

Pickett, despite registering for the draft, was still “beyond shocked” when she saw her name on the screen.

“I think my reaction was based off of my self doubt,” Pickett said, “and I wasn’t able to actually release all of my emotions until I heard my name.”

The team spilled out into the dorm hallways, going crazy when Pickett’s name was called. Pickett called the experience “a very big team bonding moment” because the players had recently arrived on campus and had not started practicing and playing together.

Just a few picks later, as they had more to cheer about when Haley was drafted.

“All my teammates came running into the room and were screaming and yelling and it was just a crazy, crazy experience,” Haley said.

In early January, the NWSL had announced that all Division I players who had already used up three years of college eligibility were able to be drafted without registering, due to the pandemic pushing the fall 2020 soccer season to spring 2021. Haley, who plans to pursue a coterminal master’s degree in sustainability science and practice next year, did not register and entered draft day with “zero expectations.”

“It’s something people joke, like ‘oh you’re a pro now’ and it’s still something that I’m not even comfortable with because I’m still processing it,” Haley said.

Pickett and Haley seemed to be the only ones who were surprised to see their names in the draft results, however.

“We were not surprised to see Kiki and Madi selected in the first round,” wrote head coach Paul Ratcliffe in an email to The Daily. “They have developed into amazing players during their time at Stanford … they have the ability to be impact players at the next level.”

But both players, who were 2019 All-Americans, started the journey to the pros long before Stanford. In Pickett’s case, she did not even consider playing for the Cardinal until they expressed interest in her. The Santa Barbara, Calif. native said she began playing soccer around age three in the recreational leagues in her hometown and always played with her family during their weekend get-togethers.

“I never thought of playing professionally until I was probably 10 years old, or about to go into junior high,” she said.

Stanford reached out to express interest in Pickett early in high school, and she began to understand that there was a possibility of playing for the now-three-time NCAA College Cup Champions. Pickett and Haley were members of two of those national championship teams, with Pickett scoring the deciding penalty kick to lead the Cardinal to the 2019 title over No. 2 North Carolina.

Haley also started playing around age three in recreational leagues. She said she did not think much about playing professionally when she was younger but “never wanted [soccer] to not be a part of my life, so I was just enjoying the ride and taking things as they were… More and more opportunities kept coming up and I got the opportunity to play at Stanford, and now professionally.”

Unlike Pickett, however, Haley said she reached out to Stanford to express interest, partially because it was a school her parents had been talking about since middle school. Then, as a sophomore in high school, her club coach was able to connect her with the school and she visited.

“The coaches said ‘yeah, we want you,’ and you can’t really say no,” she recalled. 

“It’s been a crazy ride but I’ve just been keeping my head down and playing because I love the game,” she added.

Now, in addition to extending Stanford’s streak to four years with a player drafted in the top five, Pickett and Haley were part of a history-making first round that saw a record six Black women drafted. The NWSL draft consists of four rounds, each with 10 picks.

Neither of them really noticed the diversity of the first round, however, which Haley attributed to the diversity of Stanford’s team.

“We’ve always had diversity, and Kiki and I both have been lucky to have had a lot of players that have come before us that look like us, and I think that’s important,” she said.

Ratcliffe wrote that the team “is like a family” and they “learn from each other’s different experiences, which is why diversity is so important.”

“We are encompassing the inclusive community so at the end of the day that’s what we strive for,” Pickett added. “It wasn’t really a shock, we weren’t trying to hit a record, but that’s just something we knew that we could do.”

Women’s Division I soccer does not stand out for being a racially diverse sport: Out of the nearly 10,000 female student-athletes who played D1 soccer in 2019, only about 700 — or 7% — were Black. While the numbers are up from the five percent of players who were Black in 2012, the disparities begin well before the collegiate level.

In 2019, the Aspen Institute found that the average parent in the United States pays $537 for one child to play soccer. Although not nearly as expensive as other sports like ice hockey, where parents pay an average of $2,583 per child annually, the costs create a barrier to participation for many young athletes.

“At the end of the day, people who don’t reach a [particular] socioeconomic class cannot afford to pay for these plane tickets, cannot afford to pay for jerseys every year,” Pickett said. “You’re discouraging those who are not able to afford to play at a high level.”

She suggested eliminating the pay-to-play model as the most effective way to encourage young athletes from all backgrounds to get involved in sports that have been historically white and affluent, but also acknowledged the difficulties of that: “I know there’s a bunch of political and economic structures that we’re probably going to have to dismantle to do that.”

Pickett and Haley both pointed to the recruiting process as an area for improvement as well, with Pickett saying that coaches should travel to visit players instead of recruiting from tournaments that players must travel to with their club teams.

Haley also said that when college coaches and their universities do a better job of recruiting a racially and socioeconomically diverse group of women, it can lead to more diversity in future year’s recruiting classes. In one of her communications classes last fall, she worked on a project about female soccer players where she was able to talk to other Pac-12 players about diversity in the recruiting process.

“One girl at Washington State University brought up how … talking to players that look like you, and having people at those schools really making and effort, making you feel welcome, is super important when you’re talking about minority groups, when you’re talking about people who are coming from lower economic and social classes,” Haley said.

“I think the more that people can feel like they deserve to be in these spaces, I think the better,” she continued. “These are groups of people who typically feel, for whatever reason, or are made to feel that they don’t belong in those spaces so I think in that sense, that’s something that’s very much in a coach’s or university’s control more so than the barriers to entry with club soccer.”

While Pickett will graduate after this season with a degree in communications and join Kansas City immediately for the upcoming season, Haley is planning on completing her bachelor’s degree in Science, Technology and Society this spring and returning for one final season with Stanford in the fall before joining the Red Stars. The NCAA granted all athletes with spring 2020, fall 2020 and winter 2021 seasons an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic, so Haley will take advantage of the rule change to play a fifth season with the Cardinal.

“My goal for the season is to enjoy the little moments,” Pickett said, “because I know for a fact, if we do this correctly, I may only have three months left on campus. Realizing that this could be my last practice, my last training, the last time I’m with the greatest teammates ever, I don’t want to take that for granted.”

Haley said the team’s main goal is to secure its second straight national championship and extend its streak of Pac-12 titles to six. She also agreed with Pickett, saying “enjoying the little moments” is also one of her hopes for the upcoming season.

Ratcliffe echoed Haley’s championship aspirations and said he also wants to see the two stars continue to develop this season.

“Ultimately, I hope they can leave a legacy of being the first recruiting class to win three national championships during their time on the Farm,” he wrote.

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Sofia Scekic is a desk editor for the sports section. She is a junior from Wisconsin studying Public Policy. An avid Green Bay Packers fan, she has not missed a game in nine years. Contact her at sscekic 'at' stanforddaily.com.