Senior kinesiology major and forward for La Verne women’s soccer team Jessica Hernandez finished the 2017 season with eight goals and two assists.
These numbers landed her in second place in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference goal scoring race and helped the team almost clinch their first playoff berth in nine years.
At one point, however, Hernandez was close to never playing soccer. She did not begin to play until she was 7, after years of begging her parents to let her.
“My parents actually didn’t want me playing soccer, especially my mom,” Hernandez said. “American Youth Soccer Organization was during the end of summer when it is the hottest. She did not want to take me because she didn’t want to stay at practice, but I kept begging her to sign me up and she finally did.”
It was the second semester of her senior year in high school and Hernandez still had not received any offers to play collegiate soccer. She thought her soccer career was over – until Moe Garcia, her youth soccer coach, helped get her an offer to play soccer for La Verne.
Head coach Lauryn Pehanich’s husband was a friend of Garcia, who was Hernandez’s coach at Freedom Football Club. It was through him that Pehanich came to see one of her games.
“The Leopards are better off having had a player of Hernandez’s quality,” junior midfielder Juna Bouchekara said. “Jessica is one of the hardest working people I know that gives 110 percent every time she steps onto the field. Her dedication, work ethic, passion and motivation helped lead this team.”
When she is not playing soccer, Hernandez can be found lifting weights.
“For a long time when I wasn’t playing soccer I used to ride horses competitively, but I had to stop doing that to focus on soccer,” Hernandez said. “As a freshman I hated the weight room and I was terrified of it, and I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there, but ever since sophomore year I developed this passion for weightlifting and by my senior year it was in full throttle.”
Junior midfielder Anna Ottley said Hernandez is a good leader on the field and always made sure the team was working hard and focused on what they were supposed to do.
“Off the field she knows how to cut loose and bring the team together,” Ottley said.
She recalled one night in particular in her apartment.
“She decided to do the Spider-Man challenge and throw herself up against the wall, and after she hit the ground she just laughed and coughed so we all started laughing really hard,” Ottley said.
Hernandez will graduate next semester with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and she said wants to get a master’s degree in occupational therapy to help people, especially those who have suffered from strokes.
Senior midfielder Cambria Smith said she is going to miss Hernandez’s sense of humor and the ability for her to make anyone laugh.
“Jess was one of those people who could make you laugh without even trying to,” Smith said. “She was best known for collapsing out of laughter. If anyone got her laughing really hard, we all knew what was coming down, her knees would buckle and she would hit the ground laughing hysterically. It was the contagious sort of laugh that made us all start to laugh just by watching her.”
For 14 years soccer was Hernandez’s life. She said it is going to be hard to walk away from playing the sport competitively.
“I don’t know if there is one specific thing I’ll miss about playing, but just being on a team and around a group of girls all the time, it’s like being in a totally different environment.” Hernandez said.
Jose Brambila can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.