Socorro keeper set to be an Aggie

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Soccer season never really ends.

Between school teams and club teams young players can spend a substantial portion of any year honing their skills on the pitch. It takes a true style of dedication.

But since professional soccer isn't yet one of America's beloved pastimes, careers normally end after the conclusion of high school.

For one Socorro soccer player, that conclusion will have to wait for at least another four years.

Lady Warriors goalkeeper Tayler Hammack has signed on to play at New Mexico State, and it seems like the Aggies are excited for her arrival on campus.

"She's a great kid. Her personality is so big," NMSU head soccer coach Blair Quinn said.

Anyone who knows Hammack understands precisely what Quinn is talking about, and her larger-than-life character is part of what makes Hammack so good in goal. She's assertive on the pitch and her ability to positively take command of a defense is an important facet of her position.

There's that and the fact that she's simply really good at playing keeper. She's intuitive and fearless, and she's likely going to keep getting better and better at it.

"She's very quick and explosive," Quinn said. "Her ceiling is almost nonexistent. Her potential growth is huge. Her personality definitely lends itself to her abilities on the field as a goalkeeper and kind of being a field general. She's just a positive leader on the field. The kid is always in a good mood."

Originally from Tucumcari, Hammack began playing soccer in second grade. Her family settled in Portales and she played for the Rams beginning her eighth-grade year. She was an all-district first team member and was all-state honorable mention her freshman and sophomore years.

However, her club team was in Albuquerque and she would have to make the 230-mile trek every weekend to play with her team. When her family relocated to Socorro her junior year, it made that commute far easier.

And as is the norm here, the town and program welcomed her with open arms.

"My first practice the girls welcomed me right away," she said, and the Lady Warriors quickly named her a team captain.

"I wasn't expecting anything. It was a great experience because I had never been a captain before," she said. "It was really cool."

The course of the last two years for Hammack has been well-documented around Socorro. She helped her team to consecutive quarterfinal appearances in the state tournament and back-to-back district titles. She was named first team all-district both seasons and her senior year was named to the state honorable mention team again. She allowed just 21 goals in 2012, made 60 saves and gave up only 1.062 scores per match.

With that resume it seems making it onto a Division I roster wouldn't have been very difficult, but Hammack had a couple factors working against her.

One, she attended two small schools, and big-time programs in any sport don't usually find the time to look for talent at smaller programs. Two, the recruiting process is one the players themselves usually have to initiate these days.

Hammack's process admittedly wasn't an easy one.

"I was actually really late in the process," she said. She knew she wanted to play soccer at the next level, she just wasn't 100 percent sure how to get her name out there.

"My club coach kind of took me under her wing and kind of helped me get everything going."

Slowly but surely Hammack and her club skipper, Stephanie Coppola, got the ball rolling and eventually the goalkeeper found herself at a one-day showcase clinic at NMSU.

"That's when I really started emailing other coaches. It was really stressful," she said. "You can ask my parents. I was a wreck. I was cranky all the time."

Any mood-related issues aside, Hammack took care of much of the recruiting game herself and that paid off big when she went to the aforementioned clinic at State.

That's when Quinn noticed her.

Two of the head coach's current goalkeepers noticed how athletic Hammack was and told Quinn he needed to get a look at her. And if anyone can spot talent in the net, it's Quinn. He played the position at Rockhurst and coached two successful Division I keepers at Arizona State and Kansas.

When you look at the entire picture, it looks a little like destiny. If you believe in that sort of thing.

"State has always been the place I really wanted to go to college," Hammach said. "I was so thrilled."

She also had an opportunity to travel to Laramie to scope out Wyoming's program, but said the feel of it just wasn't right for her.

"I just felt like Blair (Quinn) is incredible," Hammack said of her decision to be an Aggie. "He's really straightforward. I feel like there's so much room for me to grow in that program, and at Wyoming I didn't get the same feeling."

And as far as growth is concerned, Quinn definitely agrees. Hammack has obviously always had solid instruction under coaches like Coppola and Socorro coach Mitch Carrejo, but at New Mexico State she'll be privy to upper-level goaltending coaching constantly.

"That's why I'm really excited about her," Quinn said. "I think there was a draw there in that I was a goalkeeper, but regardless she's going to get high-level goalkeeper training on a daily basis. Certainaly I'm not knocking any training she's had to this point. It's something I've talked about for years, is the goalkeeper position has the highest learning curve when you get to college."

It really is a perfect fit for both Hammach and the program. She'll get to watch two redshirt senior keepers in 2013, plus a junior college transfer for the next two years. All she has to do is listen and learn.

"She'll have every opportunity to compete and start just like the other three. It's going to be wide open from day one," Quinn said. "What's going to be huge for her is that there's zero pressure from me in terms of expectation from her. If she plays, that's awesome, but I don't think she's in a position where she'll have to play her freshman year and we can just continue to improve. I think her upside is tremendous and it wouldn't surprise me at all, though, if she's playing in her second year."

Aside from getting a chance at a solid education, Hammack is also willing to take on the position of role model. Again, it can be difficult for athletes out of small schools to make it onto big-school rosters, but she can serve as a reminder that it's entirely possible if you put some elbow grease into it.

"Overall I feel like so many people don't think it's achievable," she said. "Honestly, there's nothing special about my life. It's ordinary. Maybe if kids here could see that if they work really hard they can achieve something like that. I feel like hopefully some kids could be like hey, I can do that."

With coaches such as Quinn who know how and where to find soccer talent in-state, playing in college is even more plausible for small-town talent.

"You've got to keep the best players playing at home," he said, and he absolutely means it. Four of his seven recruits on the 2013 class are from New Mexico.

"People want to see local kids do well. I just flat out 100 percent believe we can win with in-state talent. It's here."

Of course though every high school kid needs a little help along the way, and Hammack has had a solid base of support. She said her parents and coaches have been hugely positive in helping her get where she is, and that Coppola has been one of the largest influences.

"She's like my rock. I don't know if I could have made it through this whole process without her because I was an absolute wreck," Hammack said. "She kept me calm."

Hammack also mentioned some guy named Ian in Portales. The 2013 New Mexico State soccer schedule isn't out yet and Hammack won't likely see much playing time this season. But in a year or two when she does find her way into the net, it should be well worth the 150-mile trip from Socorro to watch her and the Aggies play.

This city is definitely proud of her, and all indications are that at some point in the near future Las Cruces will be proud to have her around too.