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On the Pitch Q&A: Kayla Ryan

By Tiff Wells.

Last week, we debuted our UH Athletics Q&A series with University of Hawaii basketball player Nae Nae Calhoun. This time around, we head to the soccer field to chat with Rainbow Wahine junior forward Kayla Ryan, one of the team’s leading returnees.

Q: The team lost its three top goal scorers due to graduation after the 2018 season, and you had just two shots on goal. How did you become the team’s 2019 leading goal scorer with 7?

RYAN: When I did not make the first travel roster that season, I felt sad and disappointed, but mostly it made me more determined to not let it happen again. I didn’t want to fall short of that standard again. When the team was on that trip, I was home doing the mandatory practices, but every day since then if I was told I didn’t make the travel roster, I would go out by myself every day and put in extra reps and work. Even when I started to see success in practices and games, I never stopped doing those extra reps, and I think that was the biggest game-changer for me.

Q: You made eight starts in the 16 matches you appeared in during the 2019 season. Many say athletes improve the most or make the biggest leap from their freshman to their sophomore year. What were a couple of the biggest changes that you saw between your freshman and sophomore seasons to prevent a sophomore slump?

RYAN: I think a couple of the biggest changes for me was my work effort and focus. During my freshman year, I had so much performance anxiety and was afraid of making mistakes to the point where it was hindering my performance. The anxiety made soccer not always fun for me, and when you aren’t in love with the game, it’s hard to push yourself and work hard every day. At the end of my freshman year, I saw a sports psychologist to help with the fear of making mistakes and to relax on the field. That made a huge difference! It made me enjoy the game again. I started to focus on the right things like the hard work and getting better instead of the results. That was step one, focusing on your progress because the progress is what will bring the results. My work ethic played a big part in the success I had in my sophomore year. I worked harder and did more reps than I have ever done in my soccer career. The extra work helped increase my fitness and technique, it slowed the game down and enabled me to make better and faster decisions on the field.

Q: In 2019, you led the team in points (14) and also were named to the All-Big West First-Team. Before the season began, how did you think your sophomore season would play out?

RYAN: I definitely did not think it would play out as it did, but I am grateful it did! I thought going into my sophomore year that I would play more and do better than I did my freshman year, but not to the extent to which I did. Not making that first travel roster was a blessing in disguise. It taught me so much about myself and that provided the spark that drove me throughout the season.

Q: Alexis Mata is now playing overseas in Spain. Raisa Strom-Okimoto is in year two with Utah Royals FC of the NWSL. How great is it to see former Rainbow Wahine playing professionally? Do you have a favorite futbol club?

RYAN: At the moment I do not have a favorite club, but if I had to pick, it would be Utah Royals FC. Lex and Raisa were great leaders of our team here at UH, and they are inspirations to all of us. We love ’Bows in the pros, and I am so happy for them and their successes!

Q: What is your favorite thing about the following people: trainer Lyn Nakagawa? Sonia Basma? Marc Fournier? Michele Nagamine?

RYAN: My favorite thing about Lyn, besides the fact that she takes care of all my injuries, is how much she cares for all of us. She is definitely a safe spot for me to go and talk to about anything, and she has always been really supportive of me. When life got rough for me last season, she was always there to offer a hug and support. She’s definitely very caring, and I am very appreciative of her.

My favorite thing about Sonia is her energy and drive. I tend to push myself really hard and occasionally my friends or teammates will call me crazy, but I feel like Sonia understands that crazy. She pushes me to work harder, and I feel this is definitely making me better. She’s always energetic and excited about our practices, which flows throughout the rest of the team.

My favorite thing about Marc is how straightforward he is, but also how supportive he is. He will get on us sometimes and will never hold his opinion back during film which is very helpful. He can be sarcastic and roast us at practice making it more fun. Even though he likes to joke and pick on us at practice, he is also extremely supportive. Last season in the beginning when I was struggling and when I didn’t make the roster, he was always there to support me and tell me to pick my head up and keep working. He would stay with me after practice for extra reps, do film with me whenever I asked, and gave me extra pointers on how to get better. That support meant a lot to me and really helped me achieve the level of success I had last season. One particular memory that I have of Marc came after our CSUN game last season when I had my breakthrough game. After the excitement of winning in overtime, he came up to me and gave me a big hug and told me that he was proud of me. That meant the world to me after everything I had been going through on and off the field in the month prior. I was and still am very grateful for that kind of support.

My favorite thing about Coach Bud is how she makes Hawai’i feel like home. She’s always very supportive of this team and cares for all of us. I know that if I ever need anything, she will always be there and answer my call when I need her. In my time here, she has always been there for me when times have been tough on and off the field. She cares about us as more than just soccer players and wants to see us succeed off the field and in our future careers. She makes this team feel like family.

Q: All UH teams log a ton of airline miles every season. What are the must-have items in your carry-on bag when you board the plane?

RYAN: There are many must-have items like headphones, cell phone, jacket and laptop, but the two most important things are snacks and water! One of the biggest problems with traveling is that as athletes we need to eat every few hours, so snacks on those long flights are very important. Flights are also dehydrating, so water is a must-have on the plane to keep our bodies hydrated and ready for the games.

Q: You were a four-year starter in high school at Valley Christian in San Jose, California, and never missed a single start. What do you attribute that feat to?

RYAN: I would attribute that feat to my club soccer team. In my freshman and sophomore year we would practice four days a week with multiple games on the weekend, so that much time on the field kept my touches on point and kept me fit through my entire high school career.

Q: How do you stay mentally strong and physically fit during an on-going global pandemic? The team has recently returned for workouts. How have those gone? What are some of the biggest changes?

RYAN: What keeps me mentally strong is my friends and family, and the thought of a competition-filled season. I did my best to work out as much as possible during the pandemic. This included looking up workouts on YouTube that I can do inside and the sweat deck card workout.

We are all super excited to be back practicing and be back in a routine. These practices have been going extremely well, and I think this is a very good team. Some of the biggest changes would be having to wear a mask during practice and having to socially distance. We haven’t been able to do contact while playing yet, but hopefully, we will get there soon while keeping everyone safe and healthy. I am very impressed with everyone’s skills and work ethic so far and can’t wait to continue to get to know the newcomers and work towards a winning season with everyone.

Q: In your family, who is the best cook? And when you go home, what are a couple of the dishes you request the parentals to make?

RYAN: Both of my parents are pretty good cooks. I can’t pick between the two of them. A few dishes that I love would be pasta and pizza. I love Italian food.

Q: Recently, the NCAA gave a February 3rd start date for college soccer. What’s the excitement level for you and the team, even though a schedule has yet to be announced?

RYAN: We are very excited and can’t wait to compete again. This team is very hungry and is working hard day in and day out to be the best that we can be. Regardless of who we play or how many games we play, we can’t wait to get back to doing what we love. We are counting down the days!

Q: Hypothetical question here. You must make a five-player penalty kick team. Who are you picking and why?

RYAN: My penalty kick team would be me, Morgan Meza, Mckenzie Moore, Lauren Marquez and Emily Cottrell. I just think that this group executes PKs very well at practice and would be able to handle the pressure of taking one in a shootout.

Q: Thank you for your time today, Kayla. Finally, take us through a typical game day, both here at home and on the road.

RYAN: A typical game day at home would be waking up and going to class. I make sure to eat a good breakfast and drink water throughout the day. After class, I get lunch which is usually a sandwich. Then I go over notes and film that could be helpful before the game. Then I get dressed and head to the field. The entire way to the field, I have my headphones in and listen to my game day playlist. When we get to the field we get ready for the game, and midway through our warmup, I will eat half a granola bar. Then it’s game time!

For a game on the road, there are not many changes. I’ll wake up, eat and drink water. Instead of class, I’ll go to our team study hall session. Then eat lunch, which is still usually a sandwich. Then I will still go over my notes and film, get ready and head to the field with my music. I’ll follow my warmup routine with my half a granola bar in the middle. Then it’s time to play!

And, for both home and away games, I always make sure that my hair is bright pink, and I’ll re-dye it before if it’s not!