On The Plains with Haley Duca: 'embracing your role'

by Patrick Meadows
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AUBURN, Ala. – In her career with Auburn soccer, senior Haley Duca has learned the most important way to serve the team is by “embracing your role.”

Duca is quoted as being “very closed off at first,” but once you get to know her, she is “super outgoing” and “a good spirit to be around.”

Unlike some generational loyalists, Duca’s journey that brought her to Auburn went against a fierce rivalry. She chose to pave her own path because she “wanted to be [her] own person and be different”.

“Well actually, I grew up cheering for the other big school in the state,” she said. “My mom went to school there, so I always rooted for them until I started looking to go and play college soccer, and I did not want to go to there.

“Auburn was kind of always my top choice,” Duca added. “I wanted to stay close to home and stay in state, but there are not a whole lot of schools in the state of Alabama for soccer. It is so cliché to say, but it just felt like home. The people and the campus are unmatched.”

Hailing for Chelsea, Alabama, Duca came to Auburn in 2021. Coming out of high school, Duca was the star player, but when she arrived on the Plains the playing field had evened out.

“It is definitely hard at first,” says Haley Duca. “My first semester was really hard getting used to it, but also in the back of my mind I knew that with the players I was playing behind that I wasn’t going to play over them.”

After not seeing any time in the fall of her freshman year, Duca then saw a multitude of playing time in the spring.

“But in the spring, they moved me to a new position and gave me another way to shine in my own way and an ability to get on the field, so that is when I changed to outside back.”

In her second year, she played a career-high 27 minutes during the Tigers’ exhilarating 9-0 victory against Southern Miss. After her record game, Duca moved back to the bench.

“Sophomore year it switched back to not playing, but it was just about understanding that this is what is best for the team and that you can’t be selfish.”

Finally, in her junior season, Duca earned more consistent minutes.

“Then this past season, I got a lot more minutes overall, not a whole lot in every single game, but I got enough key minutes to help my team, so it has been fun. It is definitely hard in the beginning, but again, embracing your role and trusting the process is what matters.”

While in her junior year, Duca was not only able to accumulate more minutes but she also scored her first career goal as a Tiger. The magic moment came as the game-winner against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament. 

Duca says the goal was “everything."

“I always joked about scoring in the SEC Tournament, so when it happened it was a really special moment because I was just doing my job. My role in the moment, in a corner kick, is to lock the box and put it back in play. That is exactly what I did, and I put it back in, and thankfully it fell perfectly.

"My whole family was there. My sister was able to drive down and my parents were there. Some of my friends from home were there. Celebrating with everyone and seeing how excited everyone else got for me made me feel really special.”

Celebrating with everyone and seeing how excited everyone else got for me made me feel really special.

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Haley Duca

Auburn_Defender_Haley_Duca__12___Auburn_Defender_Mallory_Mooney__8__20231029_SOC_SECT_vsTENN_ZB_0059PENSACOLA, FL - OCTOBER 29 - 2023 SEC Soccer Tournament, First Round - Auburn Defender Haley Duca (12), Auburn Defender Mallory Mooney (8) during the game between the (8) Auburn Tigers and the (9) Tennessee Volunteers at Ashton Brosnaham Soccer Complex in Pensacola, FL on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers

For her senior season in 2024, Duca wants to make improvements in her game to help her team.

“I definitely want to improve on going forward more and creating better attacks for our team, and that is something that we have talked about that I need to work on,” Duca said. “Also, working on my individual defending because it can always improve.”

Soccer has had a profound impact on shaping her life both on and off the field. Beyond the physical and tactical skills, she has attained through the sport, soccer has played a pivotal role in influencing various aspects of her life outside of the game.

“I think it has made me a lot more responsible and more levelheaded. It is something that has always been there for me, and I have always done it over the weekends and everything. I didn’t always get to go and do the things that my friends got to do, and I hated it at first but once I got here, I realized it was worth it in the end. It made me more of a structured person and it also shaped me into the type of person that I am.”

The game has certainly taught her that sacrifice yields rewards. 

“I think that my joruney has taught me to take pride in embracing my role and that everyone is special in their own way. If you are contributing on the field or if you're there giving encouragement off the field, you matter and you have the power to make a difference."

ZB109793_Enhanced_NRPENSACOLA, FL - OCTOBER 29 - 2023 SEC Soccer Tournament, First Round - during the game between the (8) Auburn Tigers and the (9) Tennessee Volunteers at Ashton Brosnaham Soccer Complex in Pensacola, FL on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers