By ASHLEY MACKIN-SOLOMON
JUNE 1, 2021 10 AM PT
At La Jolla Country Day School, multisport athletes aren’t rare. Nor is it rare for freshmen to be nervous in their early days with a team. But what was rare this season was a female wide receiver named Maya Couey.
The 14-year-old played in only one game as most freshmen saw little action during the coronavirus-truncated four-game football season. But the experience was enough to solidify her interest in playing in the future.
“I tried flag football in middle school … because I saw there were other kids playing, boys and girls. I kept doing it, but I wasn’t going to play high school because I didn’t think I was strong enough or good enough for tackle football,” Maya said.
But she changed her mind with the persuasion of a friend and encouragement from coach Tyler Hales. She went to a meeting with other students who wanted to sign up for the football team and realized she was the same size as many of the other freshmen.
“I thought if they could do it, it wouldn’t be much different for me, too, so I worked really hard to build up my strength,” Maya said.
Though her parents were apprehensive, they eventually allowed her to sign up.
The first practice was an emotional doozie, Maya said.
“I was terrified, honestly. I don’t think I’ve ever been that nervous in my life. I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “But the first practice we had, I went and people weren’t aware there was a girl. They treated me like I was one of them.”
She continued to put in strength training and practice for a collective 20 hours a week. The Torreys would go on to a 3-1 record.
During the game in which she played, Maya was able to execute a couple of blocks.
“It was a great season,” she said. “The team chemistry was and is really good because everyone enjoys the team, playing together and being in practice. It doesn’t feel like something you have to do, but you want to do. ... We are there to focus on football and nothing else. The energy and the way it feels to be with that team, especially on games, is not something you would want to miss.”
Though Maya is a wide receiver, she’s also equipped to play defensive back. But at just 5-foot-5, she recognizes it might not be a position she would play on varsity.
That’s right, Maya wants to play varsity.
Hales said he would welcome her back. “She’s a hard worker with a great work ethic. I was fired up to get her out on the field,” he said. “When we had the chance to have a season, we wanted to make sure our players could commit, because many had other sports. She was one of those that committed to football for those seven weeks. She showed everyone she was going to put the work in. She just got better and better.”
Her teammates “treated her like every other player,” Hales said. “We didn’t have to do anything different to treat her as anything but another Torrey player. We’re excited to get her back next year.”
In addition to football, Maya plays basketball but jokes that she’s “nowhere near the best player on the team,” which made ESPN’s list of “the best high schools ever for women’s basketball” in 2020. She also sometimes plays softball, she said.
“I’ve always been big on sports, even though the first sports I tried I was terrible,” Maya said. “I played my entire life because my parents wanted me to try things. Whenever they want me to try something, I’m always sort of reluctant at first, then I grow to love these things. I love being active, and competition is really fun for me.”
Hales said Maya’s competitive drive and hard work make her a role model for other girls.
“I have a 6-year-old daughter and my daughter talks about Maya all the time,” he said. “She loves Maya. I know other girls on campus have noticed her presence on the team. She’s humble and a quiet kid and would never acknowledge that kind of subtle impact, but it has been noticed by others.”
Though Maya acknowledges that a girl on the football team could be seen as controversial, she keeps her focus on the game.
“If you really want something, you shouldn’t let what other people say get in your way,” she said. “Some might think I shouldn’t be on the field, but doing what you want to do ... is really important. If you worry about what other people say and think, you are missing out.”
La Jolla Athlete of the Week features athletes from all sports in high school (La Jolla High, The Bishop’s School, La Jolla Country Day School) and other local youth sports. We’re looking not only for the stars of competition but also for student-athletes who set an example for teamwork, academic achievement and/or community involvement. Please email your nominations, and a way to reach your nominees, to Editor Rob Vardon at firstname.lastname@example.org. ◆