Oct. 10, 2009
Katie Bridges, Texas Media Relations
Texas sophomore Leah Payne doesn't let much get to her. Even battling through the coldest match of the year, Payne produced a powerful performance in the Horns' Friday night 2-1 victory over the Loyola University Chicago Ramblers.
Payne claimed her position as a team leader, playing tough defense, skillfully taking the team's set pieces, and scoring her second goal for the season.
The defender has morphed into one of the team's more versatile and reliable players as she is one of four Longhorns to start in all 13 of UT's matches this season. Payne, who only played in 16 games during her freshman campaign, had to step into a starting role immediately this season and help junior co-captain Erica Campanelli organize a completely new backline.
Along with her responsibilities on Texas' side of the field, Payne has also been given the task of taking the Longhorns set pieces along with coming up the field to fill the box when Texas has a corner kick. It was on one of these corner kicks that Payne netted the second goal and gamewinner of her career Friday night.
Junior Kirsten Bikrhold took the kick and after her cross rebounded off the right side post, Payne found a way to knock the ball into the back of the net.
"It was just kind of bouncing in the back, so I was trying to get my body on it," said Payne. "Just react to it and follow it up as much as possible, so it could go in."
Head Coach Chris Petrucelli brings Payne up to assist with corners for a reason and his strategy has paid off twice this season. The Danville, Calif., native scored her first goal earlier in the season off a corner kick versus Louisville.
"It's great to see Leah get a goal from a corner," the Longhorn mentor said following Friday's match. "We practice with her in front of the goal a lot so it is good to see her hard work pay off."
While she is on the attacking end of the Horns corner kicks, Payne is on the other side of the ball when Texas has a free kick opportunity. In this role, she has to strategically place the ball in a favorable position so one of her teammates can get on it before an opposing player. Payne said she usually looks for her tallest teammates as the ball winners.
"I just try to get in there and if not, just toward the goal so somebody can get on to it."
With just six conference games remaining, Payne and the Longhorns are fifth in the league and travel to Oklahoma State on Sunday to try and get another three points. The Cowgirls have a quick front line and will put pressure on Texas' defense, but Payne knows the team is up to the challenge.
"We just have to continue what we are doing - marking, clearing players, and going after the ball," said Payne. "We are just trying to work on improving and get as many wins as possible."
The Longhorns (6-5-2, 2-0-2 Big 12) are one of two remaining unbeaten teams in league play and are riding a five-match unbeaten streak after starting the season 3-5-0.
"We aren't that far from first, but at the same time, we aren't that far from last," said Petrucelli. "The league will come down to the very finish this year. But I definitely believe we have a shot at first. We are just going to have to give it everything we've got."
And if the Longhorns continue to play like leader Leah Payne, anything is possible.