August 18, 2018 10:24:50 PM
STARKVILLE -- Challenges don't faze MaKayla Waldner.
When you grow up in an ultra-athletic and competitive family, you never know when you're going to be tested.
"We would race to the car," Waldner said. "Anything that could be a competition we made it a competition."
Waldner's upbringing allows her to accept the responsibility of being one of the primary scoring threats for the Mississippi State women's soccer team in 2018.
Waldner's ability to come back after having reconstructive surgery to her face also has helped her build confidence to know she can accomplish anything with hard work and dedication.
"She became a mentally tougher individual," MSU second-year head coach Tom Anagnost said. "I think she made the decision she wanted to be great. She increased her work rate. I just think she made the decision, and from the time we have had her until now she has grown up a lot. She is a better communicator, leader, teammate, and player."
Waldner helped kick the new season off in style Thursday with a goal in MSU's 3-0 victory against Southern Mississippi. On Sunday, Waldner will celebrate her 21st birthday and then lead MSU against Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches, Texas. The match will start at 7 p.m.
Waldner's goal was the sixth game-winner of her career, which is two shy of the school record. The effort comes on the heels of a sophomore season that saw Waldner lead the team with nine goals and finish second in points (19). As a result, Waldner the United Soccer Coaches named her third-team All-Southeast Region. She also received second-team All-Southeastern Conference honors.
"I knew freshman year I was just kind of on the threshold of everything," Waldner said. "Sophomore year I felt like things were finally coming together and I was able to put away my chances."
Waldner said staying after practice and working on her tactical skills enabled her to become a "different player" her freshman spring to her sophomore fall season.
Anagnost saw the intangibles that make Waldner such an important piece to his program after she suffered a broken cheekbone in the team's final match of the spring season against Southeast Missouri State. Anagnost said Waldner suffered a head butt to her face that required surgery that kept her out most of April and all of May. He said she continues to get better.
"She put so much work into her rehab and things. She is like full bore about getting back," Anagnost said. "She spent all of her spare time taking care of her body and rehabbing. She had an ankle (injury) in the winter. Her ability to come back much faster than anyone is a testament to all of the time she has invested in it. It is a great role model and behavior we want everyone to follow and copy."
Waldner was Senior Class President at Dexter High School in Missouri, so she also has the leadership qualities off the field Anagnost is looking for on a team with 14 freshmen.
"There is more weight on my shoulder to kind of make sure the team runs smoothly and we're looking after the freshmen and sophomores more closely," Waldner said. "Whether that means we're helping them on or off the field, that is just more pressure on us to help make sure everyone succeeds in the classroom and on and off the field.
"There is more of a leadership role, but I don't think there is anything too big we can't handle."
MaKayla is the daughter of Robert and Kim Waldner. Her father was a three-time All-American in wrestling at Chadron State (Nebraska), while her mother played basketball at Chadron State. MaKayla has two sisters, Samantha and Brittney, and two brothers, Trevor and Travis. Trevor won the Missouri State Championship in wrestling, while Brittney was second female to compete at the Missouri State Championships in boys wrestling. Samantha runs cross country and track at Highland Community College (Kansas). Coming from such an athletic family, it's easy to see where MaKayla gets the competitiveness that fuels her to be the best she can be.
Waldner said competing against her brothers and sisters helped her set little goals and to be competitive with herself. She said it a personal achievement to know she can achieve her goals on and off the field. She feels that attitude has pushed her out of her comfort zone and helped her grow as a person.
That mentality drives her off the field, too. The mechanical engineering major earned First-Year Academic Honor Roll accolades as a freshman.
Waldner admits life can be "hectic," but she said time management skills are crucial to prevent her from feeling overburdened.
Anagnost will look to the seniors and the returning players in the program to set the standard and to be extensions of the coaches on and off the field. He feels Waldner is one of the experienced players he and the rest of his staff will look to make it happen.
Senior midfielder Carly Mauldin and senior defender Courtney Robicheaux will be two of those players. Mauldin feels Waldner will be in that mix, too.
"You could say Roby is the fastest we have on the back line, and I would say MaKayla is the fastest we have up top," Mauldin said. "She is going to work hard and give it her all every chance. She is going to score goals for us this season. I think she is up for it."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.