THE SEND OFF: U17 girls soccer team finds success and disarray

HARLINGEN — As U.S. woman’s soccer legend Mia Hamm once said, “Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you, is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back.” And much like Hamm, many of the Harlingen Celtic U17 girls team has spent a lifetime with a ball at their feet.

Running from practice to practice, to games and to more practice, chasing the dream or the spark that made them continue on the path less traveled. A journey that for many on the team seems like it began a lifetime ago.

Some have been on the team for as many as 12 years and others just one.

This season, the team reached new heights and progressed further than it ever had and won the state title in U17 Division II soccer, which is the state’s highest honor for the division.

However, despite the success, the team had to contend with a multitude of challenges on its way to the top. From bulling and injuries, to racism and questionable calling, it all fostered an tense playing environment.

Nevertheless, the team found a way to win.

“Winning state for us was really emotional because we worked really hard to get there,” said midfielder Brianna Herrera. “Everything that we went through together as a team; it felt good to win.”

“Winning state felt pretty good to see my team go out there and get the win, especially against a team that really didn’t like us,” added Elise Garza.

One unchanging factor that has remained vital to the team’s success through out the years has been the unselfish devotion of head coach Felipe Hernandez.

Regardless of the financial burdens that have plagued Hernandez throughout his lifelong journey with the team, he has been there when many would have chosen to leave.

Hernandez’s dedication to the team has gone beyond the confinement of the field and his unwavering commitment to the girls resembles the affection that only a father would share for his daughters.

But to Hernandez, that’s exactly what the players have become.

“First of all, I feel old,” said Hernandez in laughter. “But I feel proud of the work we have accomplished and it has been awesome to see them play and grow up.”

Hernandez has coached some of the players since they were five years old and now, with a heavy heart, he says goodbye.

“It’s one thing to be a coach and teach the sport, but he was like a father figure also to the girls because he coached them for so long,” said Arnulfo Trevino of Hernandez. “You can take a good look at all the girls and they’re doing good in school and soccer is a big part of their life and they learned a lot, not only about the sport but of life because they looked up to him.”

“Felipe never gave up on the girls,” added Lisa Munoz. “He molded our girls into what they are today. He taught them to be respectful, to display good sportsmanship and to play hard and never give up.

“If anything he build that confidence in them and to keep moving forward, something you don’t see a lot these days.”

“He always there for you and he’s always willing to help you out,” added Elise Garza as she fought back the tears. “He doesn’t have to be there but as Brianna said he goes above and beyond for you.

“He’s beyond amazing and he’ll definitely have a place in heart and he will never be forgotten as a coach.”