WPSL Q&A Series: Ex-Pro Defender Haley Lukas
By Lizzy Rager
At the RAGE WPSL Girls Festival on June 10, 2022, Haley Lukas shares her insights to young girls in the club. Haley Lukas is a current player for RAGE WPSL, acting as a mentor for her teammates with her experience playing professional soccer abroad in Hungary and France and collegiately at UC Berkeley Cal. She is also currently a mentor Director for Female Footballers, a training organization for young athletes that focuses on developing players’ mindsets and other mental aspects of the game.
Could you give a brief introduction of yourself?
I grew up in Pleasanton. I played for RAGE. I went to Foothill high school. I played soccer at UC Berkeley at Cal not too far away. In the past four years, I’ve been playing professionally in Europe. Most recently I was playing in Budapest, Hungary and I played in the top division in France and in Poland as well.
When did you start playing soccer?
I started playing soccer at 5 years old and then competitively at U9.
What is your experience playing soccer abroad?
I just retired in January so I don’t play professionally anymore but I did play in Hungary for a team called Ferencvárosi. In France, I played for a team called EAG or En Avant Guingamp. It was pretty cool to play against the players you grew up watching on TV in the World Cup.
How did you overcome the language barrier while playing abroad?
For the four teams I was on, two of them spoke mediocre English in terms of the coaching staff I’ve had coaches that didn’t speak any English at all, so it’s definitely a challenge. I would say that’s the biggest adjustment to going to play in Europe.
As a general rule, soccer is a fairly universal language so as long as you can learn ‘left,’ ‘right,’ ‘man-on,’ those kinds of things, communication isn’t super challenging.
It makes you think a lot about having to be quiet with your thoughts for most of the day because you’re not able to speak the language.
How did you get recruited collegiately?
I completed my college application process as a freshman in high school. I was sending emails to these coaches about what roles I was going to play, what team I was going to be on, and what I was really interested in. If there are certain colleges that stick out to you, start doing that research now. Go to women’s games, come in to RAGE WPSL game. Through your club team, you have access to college coaches so that will be a great opportunity to get recruited into college.
How did you get recruited Professionally?
it’s a little bit more challenging if you’re not a league prestige team (or) if you’re not a national team. You have to create a highlight reel and then you go to an agent, which is someone you hire to help find teams in Europe.
What was the hardest part of the transition from local to collegiate?
I would definitely say it is the mental side of the game. We know that once we’re going to the collegiate level, it’s going to be more technically challenging, it’s going to be more athletically challenging. For the athletic part, that’s something you can control. You can come in as fit as you can as a freshman and be able to pass those fitness tests. Technically, it’s gonna take some time because you are adjusting to a faster style of play, you have to play at that level, but I think understanding coming into that college environment that it is now a business, the coach is paid to keep his job—to win games—and he’s gonna put the best eleven on the field.
As a freshman, as an eighteen-year-old, that’s very different, potentially, from what young people have experienced. Getting to that next level and understanding, ‘i might not play as a freshman, but I’m on a team and I’m servicing the needs of the team when my time comes.’ That can be a very hard adjustment for players, especially ones that are the best on their teams all go to college, and on the college team, it’s every best player from their club.
What is your position on the WPSL Team?
I kind of play all over the place. I am a left defender and I’m also playing a little bit of center-back and center-mid as well.
What have you learned this WPSL Season?
Whenever you get onto a new team in a new environment you’re always playing with new players and have to adjust to how the players around you play. I think a big part of being a great player, no matter the environment you step into, is not only bringing your skills but also helping your teammates be the best players they can be.
What is the worst injury you’ve had in your soccer career?
This is a silly injury. I tore this thing called a Lisfranc, which is the thing that connects your toes to your feet. It’s a common NFL injury and I did it playing powder puff football in high school, I don’t recommend doing that. I (also) had a quad tear which took a long time to heal.
Those are the big injuries I’ve had in a long career. I’m pretty lucky to not have anything that’s put me out for too long.
What was your dream soccer team growing up and who is your soccer idol?
Oh, that’s a hard one. My soccer idols were Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy, and Megan Rapinoe, who still plays which is awesome.
I didn’t know I wanted to play professionally until I was in college. I would say my favorite team to watch and wanted to be on was this team called FC Gold Pride, a professional team back in the day that played in the Bay Area.
What is your favorite part of the game?
My favorite part of the game is definitely the ability to step into leadership roles so being able to work with my teammates and really be in a team environment where we can motivate each other. For me, relationships are the most important.
What advice would you give to young female athletes?
There are a couple of things here. I would say first thing from the technical side, figure out what you’re really good at in soccer and become excellent at it. Become a specialist in something that sets us apart. For me, I’m a naturally left-footed defender. That is not super common. So I became very good at defending the ball and being able to work with my left foot.
On the mental side, trying to be as confident as we can. Our confidence is gonna change all the time, so if we can work now on holding ourselves up, and really working on staying strong up here, it’ll make us better with our feet.
When we’re being recruited to play for college, coaches are gonna sit on the sidelines and they’re gonna see what stands out. So if you’re gonna be good at something, be so good at it so they notice it right away.