By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Gloria Hensley didn’t know what to expect from her first year of college soccer. What she got was a national championship. Lindsey Wilson defeated Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) 3-2 to win the school’s third national title.
“We set goals for our team and that was our No. 1 goal was to win nationals. I think overall we were not the team that was picked to win, but we were definitely one of the top teams,” Hensley said.
The Blue Raiders had to rally twice in the championship game at Orange Beach, Ala., against underdog Olivet Nazarene. The Tigers had upset No. 1 seed and four-time defending champion Lee (Tenn.) to reach the title game. Winning titles is nothing new to Lindsey Wilson. The Blue Raiders also won title in 2004 and 2006. They have been ranked No. 1 for a record 42 weeks since 2000.
“It’s been really, really good. I like my coaches and team. All of the players are really good,” Hensley said.
Hensley played in every JV and most varsity games this season, which was more than she expected from her freshman year.
“I have gotten to play quite a bit more than I originally thought I would. I have learned a lot,” she said.
For Hensley the hardest part of moving from high school to college soccer was the physical adjustment. She has remained injury free and kept pace with the tough training program. Although the college players are generally faster, the biggest difference for her has been the way the game is played.
“It’s all a mind game more than people would imagine. You have to think really quickly and you have to have a plan in your head before you even get the ball. I think the hardest part is that you have to process things so much quicker than in high school,” Hensley said.
Hensley also switched positions from high school to college. At North Laurel she was a forward expected to shoulder much of the team’s scoring. She did not score a varsity goal this season for the Blue Raiders.
“I played almost entirely defense, which is not what I am used to playing but it’s where they needed me,” Hensley said.
With several players moving on after this season, Hensley could see more playing time or even a move back to offense next season. The Blue Raiders have three seniors, but also lose several foreign players that wanted to experience the United States. The different nationalities were one of Hensley’s favorite parts of her first season.
“I really enjoy it a lot. I think that is what is so special about our team is we are so diverse. It’s surprising how well we all get along. We are like a family,” Hensley said.
Hensley plans to complete her undergraduate degree at Lindsey Wilson and then attend dental school, hopefully at the University of Kentucky. That would mean the end of a soccer career that began on the fields of the London-Laurel Optimist Club.
“It will probably be the end for me, which is really sad, but I think Lindsey Wilson is a really good place for me to end my career,” Hensley said.