CLINTON –– To understand Madalyn Freitas, it helps to go back.
Before her transcendent junior and senior seasons at Clinton. Before an astonishing freshman campaign at Tecumseh.
Way, way back to her first memories of playing soccer after picking it up at four years old.
“From a young age, I just scored,” Freitas said. “That’s just what I really, really liked about the whole game. I’ve always been a forward basically my whole life, just trying to score. ”
That drive-and the innate talent to pursue it-paved the way for Freitas to be named the 2022 Lenawee County Girls Soccer Player of the Year, as selected by The Daily Telegram’s staff. It’s her third-straight Player of the Year honor after winning it each year there was a season in her prep career.
Freitas earned All-County and All-LCAA honors while leading the Redwolves to a 17-2 campaign ending in the district final with a 6-3 loss to Milan. After netting 70 goals to break her own single-season county scoring record for the third time, she’s fifth-all time in MHSAA history with 195 total.
It’s a fitting conclusion to a career marked by shattered records, a school transfer and a reputation that will forever precede her as she moves on to play at Spring Arbor University.
It’s also a career well worth revisiting, from its ambitious start at Tecumseh, rollicking finish at Clinton and everything in between.
‘What can we do to stop her?’
These days, Thomas Goodman coaches girls soccer and eSports at Finlandia University in Hancock. But it wasn’t long ago he was leading Tecumseh girls soccer up the ladder in a brutal SEC White.
Nor was it along ago when he saw Freitas play for the first time.
“We had her at our practice at Tecumseh,” he said of a summer session heading into Freitas’ freshman year. “My assistant coach (current Tecumseh head coach Matt Twiss) was in goal. The first ball came near the box and Maddy headed a screamer. ”
It slipped past Twiss to the top corner of the net for a goal. Goodman’s mind started racing.
“I’m like ‘oh, she’s good.’ She’s dominating right from scratch and I knew she was gonna break records. ”
Freitas did more than prove her coach right, exploding onto the scene with 62 goals to lead the county, her team in assists and earn her first player of the year award with honorable mention All-State honors to boot.
All while driving opposing defenses mad.
“She literally dribbled past (an) entire team three times in a row and scored three goals,” Goodman said of one of Freitas’ early games. “I remember their defender screaming at the coach ‘what can we do to stop her?’ I was just laughing — because I wouldn’t know either. ”
Breakout stars weren’t a foreign concept to Goodman. After all, Tecumseh’s Samantha Moodt won player of the year only the year before Freitas.
But as Goodman attested, there was something inherently different about Freitas. The chance-taking, strength on the ball and rare aggressiveness in the box screamed of a borderline indescribable talent.
“She has that ‘it’ factor,” he said while comparing her to the National Soccer Hall of Famer Abby Wambach. “I can’t really explain it. You see her play, it’s like ‘well, she’s got it.’ ”
Freitas admitted to a clouded memory regarding her freshman season. One of the things she does remember, though? The pure shock of it all.
“I thought I’d be lucky if I had like 20 goals in the season,” she said. “I had no idea that I would have scored that many. I was honestly really surprised. ”
Tecumseh’s season came to a close and Freitas looked ahead to 2020, where a loaded Tecumseh squad had a robust opportunity to establish themselves against typical SEC White powerhouses like Chelsea, Dexter and Pinckney.
But the chance never came. COVID-19 canceled the 2020 season, leaving one of the great what-could-have-been in Tecumseh’s history to linger in the background forever.
“We would have won districts and gone really far in states,” Goodman said. “But COVID came, everyone moved out, I moved to Finlandia and like that, the whole team changed.”
And like that, a new door opened for Freitas.
‘I felt at home’
Freitas admitted Clinton was the only landing spot she ever considered following her decision to transfer from Tecumseh. After all, COVID-19 granted her the chance to play immediately without sitting out a year and Clinton was where the majority of her childhood friends moved to after finishing middle school.
None of this was known to Clinton head coach Marla Erickson.
“High goalscorer like that, you know that name before it comes to you,” she said. “It was a surprise that she came over to me. I didn’t expect it. ”
Like Goodman before her, it didn’t take long for Erickson to pick up on the talent at hand.
“She can do a lot of unbelievable things,” she said. “Just the way she shoots, the way she reads the goalie, the way she pulls right or pulls left. She is not one-dimensional. Her scoring abilities come from all over.
“She’s got that drive for goal-that won’t go anywhere,” she said. “But she has the ability to play any position, and she will do it well.”
Still, there were adjustments to be made. Clinton was far from a slouching team before Freitas arrived and so, a new rhythm had to be established on the pitch.
“The thing that we worked on with her was just making connections with other people on the team and being trusting of who you’ve got,” Erickson said. “The girls know what she can do and trust her.”
If Freitas admitted to surprise following her freshman season, the anxiety presented by fitting in on the pitch and on a different level of the game defined the early going of her junior season.
“It was nervewracking,” Freitas said. “But I knew a lot of the girls coming in. And a lot of the girls were pretty welcoming-the ones I didn’t know. ”
Freitas eventually racked up her second-straight player of the tear award as a junior with 63 goals to beat her old record by a goal and lead the Redwolves to a 12-3 record. More importantly, she finally found the natural fit that had eluded her on the pitch.
“I felt at home,” she said. “The environment and the girls on the team were really welcoming.”
“I’m not keeping track”
Heading into this season, Freitas was in lockstep with Erickson and her teammates about what they wanted to accomplish as a team.
“We felt like this was the one year we had a really, really solid chance to win (a district championship),” Freitas said.
She admitted she was done chasing goals simply for the sake of bolstering her career numbers. Weathering the pressure the task presented simply did not mean as much to her as enjoying her senior year.
“She said, ‘I want to play soccer and I want to have fun this year,'” Erickson said. “I’m not keeping track (of goals scored).”
Instead, Freitas took a keen focus on leading the team as a captain after working to settle in only the year before.
“I felt like I had a drive to work hard for other people, not just myself,” Freitas said. “I was really excited about that.”
With the pressure off and her teammates behind her, Freitas scored 70 goals in her senior season to break her own single-season record for the final time, one last triumph in a career full of them.
All while serving to the very end in a leadership role she coveted.
“(Before) our final game we played at Milan, we had a meeting to talk about some things,” Erickson said. “And then when we got there, (Freitas) was like ‘I have a speech prepared.’ She took the team and I just stepped back and let her do her thing. ”
Whether Freitas will return to keeping track at Spring Arbor is undetermined. But as she moves on to the next stage of her playing career, the philosophy that’s guided her through her prep career will remain.
“I’d take a win over the goals I had,” she said. “I think that’s what everyone wants on a team. That’s the most important part for me. Not necessarily the number of goals I get. ”