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Goal setter: Hereford girls soccer star Payton Patrick looks to score big

During one of her final high school soccer practices last month, Hereford senior star Payton Patrick felt a bit off.

Instead of just shrugging it off, she went home and immediately took to the road. After a 5-mile run, she felt better.

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“I didn’t want to end on a bad note before I step on the field the next day, so I just thought I’m going to go out and do this. I was glad I did because I think it kind of changed my mindset leading into the Eastern Tech game,” Patrick said.

Sure enough, the next day, Patrick — a four-year starter, All-Metro regular and finalist for this year’s Maryland Gatorade Girls Soccer Player of the Year — was once again Patrick, scoring both goals in the Bulls’ 2-0 win.

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In a stellar four-year career that started with her leading Hereford to a state title game appearance and ended with her as the program’s all-time leading scorer, that after-practice run speaks to everything she has accomplished.

Hereford coach Brad Duvall, who watched Patrick finish with 84 goals and 49 assists for 113 points to break the school’s 20-year scoring mark, raves about her speed, quickness, anticipation, gifted ball skills and pure finishing ability that very few players in the country can match.

What helps separate Patrick from the many others comes in what Duvall said after he gushed about her physical traits.

“Really what gets her to that point physically is her love for the game and her desire to be great. Her work ethic is unmatched,” he said.

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“I’ve coached a lot of great athletes that were hard workers, but this kid is a great athlete who just takes hard work to another level.”

Recently selected as a pool player for the Under-19 U.S. national team, the 17-year-old South Carolina commit found soccer to be her thing at any early age. She was 4 years old when she started kicking the ball around with her older brother, Hunter, a sophomore kicker for Maryland, in the family’s basement and more than held her own. It continued throughout her childhood when she regularly played recreation soccer on boys teams.

When she entered high school, she sat down at the kitchen table with her father and grandfather and wrote down a lengthy list of goals — both individual and team oriented — she wanted to accomplish in soccer.

The overwhelming majority have been checked off, including leading the team in scoring, which she did in each of her four years, making the various all-county, all-state and All-Metro teams, and being part of the U.S. youth national team program.

When she was 9 years old, she and her family ran in the 5K Jingle Bell Run in Columbia and her finish had her father, Dave, further realizing how unique she was.

“She finished in the top five among teenagers … it was amazing to see. She just hates to lose. Hunter, Dad and myself — she beat us all,” he said. “She has that drive and I see it all the time in games, but in the last 15, 20 minutes when other players are dragging, her motor is just something you don’t see. It’s very special.”

One of the few goals she did not achieve was bringing home a state championship to Hereford with the pandemic getting in the way of the team’s final chance.

With 12 seniors and some promising underclassmen, the Bulls were destined for a strong playoff run. Instead, they made the most of their time on the field together — scoring 23 goals and allowing just two in seven wins. In the final game against Baltimore County rival Sparrows Point — matching the top two league finishers as an alternative to the county championship game — Patrick contributed two goals and two assists in a 4-1 win.

Perry Hall coach Matt Smoot, who had the difficult four-year burden of trying to design a scheme to defend against Patrick, quickly grew to appreciate what she brought to the field.

“Payton is a game changer on the field,” he said. “Her pace on and off the ball is a problem for defenders. She especially stands out as she has the ability to move through multiple defenders with the ball on her foot. If this doesn’t draw your backline apart for her to play an assist to a teammate, she will earn her own shot and doesn’t miss from within 18 yards much. Payton has genuine will to win and it shows in her competitive level.”

The limited season was bittersweet for her and the Bulls, who knew they had a special group without a crack at the coveted state title. But the final game against Sparrows Point proved to be Patrick’s best moment of her career.

“Usually you see the seniors crying at the end of their last game, but when the underclassmen were crying, too, because the seniors were leaving, it kind of tells how much of an impact we had on them. So I think that’s kind of the best moment just knowing we did everything we could, played a perfect season of what we were given and hopefully had a great impact on the younger players,” she said.

As much as Duvall wanted to see a season played this year so Patrick had the chance at the school records, he also said getting on the field was vital for the program’s future with the underclassmen needing a chance to work alongside Patrick and the big senior class.

“I wanted to see our younger players get the opportunity to see how these 12 seniors played,” he said. “For the younger kids to be immersed in the ‘wow’ this is what our practices look like, this is how fast and how hard these seniors work and this is what’s expected. Payton is just such a big piece to express that to the kids.”

Junior forward Kaila Blizzard made the most of her time spent with Patrick — doing her best to emulate her work ethic. Blizzard got more playing time as the season went on and earned her first career start in the final win against Sparrows Point.

“Having Payton as a teammate was really beneficial to me personally and everybody on the team because she just has a great attitude every day at practice and is the type of person that if you were having a bad day, she would be there to talk to you and comfort you,” she said. “On the field, she would be the one to tell you where you needed to be. For me, I played the same position as she did and she was more like a teacher type player where she was helping me to be better so I could be better as a whole for the team.”

A straight “A” student — her last “B” came in a math class in eighth grade — Patrick is ready to scribble down some new goals looking to make the most of her four years at South Carolina both on and off the field. But one goal she’s had for a good while now tops the list and that’s eventually playing for the U.S. Women’s National Team. On Friday, Patrick had a zoom call with under-20 coach Laura Harvey, who gave her an idea of the qualities the program looks for in its players. Harvey told her — first and foremost — it was important for players to be themselves. That works for Patrick.

“It’s been a goal ever since I’ve been setting them, like freshman year and even before that. That’s always been my dream and that’s what I’ve been pushing for, to get called into a national team camp and then hopefully be able to be seen by the coaches there and get feedback from them on what I need to improve on to be able to hopefully get called into the Olympic or World Cup cycle. That would be amazing.”

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