Hernandez Contributes Passion, Hard Work
By Monica Espitia, Podcast Editor
It was game day, an important one, too. The UNCP soccer team would be facing North Georgia, the second best team in the Peach Belt Conference and one of the best teams in the nation.
Under normal conditions this game would be challenging, but this time it was going to be especially hard because Britney Bennett, the only goalkeeper for the Lady Braves, was injured and out for the rest of the season.
To replace Bennett, head coach Lars Andersson had put in Claire Travis, a freshman midfielder from Wisconsin, as a provisional goalkeeper.
Through pain and exhaustion, the 11 starters fought through the 90 minutes of regular action and through the 20 minutes of extra time.
The game ended 0-0, but the Lady Braves felt it like a victory.
It was at that moment that senior captain Michelle Hernandez fell completely in love with her team.
“Even before the game started everybody was tired and in pain. But when we came to the field we just played out of our minds. We were all being aggressive and throwing ourselves to the ball because we knew we could not let them shoot,” said Hernandez.
"When the game ended I fell on the ground and started crying. I was extremely tired, but I was also insanely proud of my teammates because of the way they sacrificed themselves,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez, 22, is a native from Guadalajara, Mexico, who moved to Linkoping, Sweden, when she was 8 years old. It was in Europe that she found her first true love, soccer.
Ever since, Hernandez’s life has always been marked by an intense passion for this sport, and by her willingness to work hard both on and off the field.
“I am not the most skilled, not the best player, but I would definitely say I am the player who is willing to work the hardest,” she said. “What I contribute to the team the most is my passion and my hard work. The way I talk to my teammates, how I coach them how I push through them, and the way in which I work hard to make them work hard.”
During the 11 years she spent in her adoptive Sweden, Hernandez played on two different teams: A local team in Linkoping, and a professional team in the second league that recruited her when she was 16.
Even though she played professionally for a few years, Hernandez said she always knew she wanted to go to college to play soccer.
"I saw the movie ‘Bent it Like Beckham’ when I was 10 or maybe 12, and that’s when I realized college is what I wanted to do,” she said.
As Hernandez said, in Sweden it is not possible to play sports and attend college at the same time because the school doesn’t collaborate with athletes. Therefore, she knew she had to come to the U.S. if she wanted to expand her soccer career.
“I came to UNCP because Coach Lars completely sold the program to me. He is amazing at recruiting; he is just so good at talking players into choosing this school,” she said. “It was also safe to have a coach who is from Sweden.”
During the three years she has played for Andersson, the Guadalajara native has experienced more than 4,370 minutes of action.
She has also scored three goals and executed five assists, has been named PBC Presidential Honor Roll honoree three times, and has also garnered a PBC All-Academic teams honor and a D2 Academic Achievement Award.
Her competitive soccer career will end soon.
She will graduate next May as an accounting and finance major, and after she either wants to pursue a master’s degree or move to New Zealand to work at an accounting firm.
“Before I came here, I always sacrificed everything for soccer, but at this point I feel that I gave college soccer a chance, I gave professional soccer a chance; now it is time to focus on my career,” she said. “I am hoping I can play a couple of times a week just for fun because I love it so much.”
Hernandez said she hopes to be remembered for never giving up.
She also said she hopes to leave the legacy of a team culture based on support and understanding for each other.
“Especially in soccer, you have to work together, so as a captain I am really trying to get my teammates to be positive and encouraging because that’s what makes a team stronger,” she said.
Photo by Stefanie Smith. Michelle Hernandez runs to gain possession of the ball in a game earlier this season.