A Steamboat Springs High School soccer player lined up opposite Imelda Hernandez on April 11 at the Sailors’ home field.
With the ball placed directly in front of her for a penalty shot, the Steamboat player had only Hernandez — the goalie — to beat.
Hernandez, a Moffat County High School senior, didn’t panic and didn’t get nervous.
Instead, she just sang.
“Depending on the game and who we are playing, sometimes I will laugh or sometimes I will sing,” Hernandez said of facing tough shots. “Singing helps keep me concentrated, but I don’t know exactly why I started doing it.”
Sometimes the songs she sings are those she listened to during warm-ups, Hernandez said, and other times it’s a song that’s been stuck in her head all day.
“Today, it will be ‘Rolling in the Deep’ (by Adele),” she said Monday.
Hernandez, who has played on the MCHS girls varsity soccer team for four years, said she has a unique view of the soccer field.
While the forwards push the ball into the opposing team’s territory and the defense engages at midfield, Hernandez stands between the two poles of her goal and waits for the action to come to her.
“You have to be able to talk to everyone and see an overview of the whole field,” she said. “I have to be able to know what situations could happen and be ready for all of them.
“I have to keep my eye on the ball because the player isn’t the one who scores, it is the ball, so I have to be fast enough to follow it.”
Stopping a penalty shot, however, requires looking at the player, Hernandez said.
“You have to look in the eyes of the kicker,” she said. “Usually where their eyes are looking is where they will kick. But, it is still a split-second decision, so I have to shuffle constantly.”
The Steamboat player missed April 11, but other times Hernandez said she doesn’t get so lucky.
Goals are scored, she said, but she can’t dwell on it for too long.
“If I get hurt while I am trying to save a ball, I get a little upset,” she said. “But, if it was a lucky bounce or my team wasn’t playing in position, I will laugh. You can’t get upset because it is a game and goals happen.”
A passion for the sport
Hernandez moved to Craig when she was in third grade. To coincide with a new school, she said she started a new sport with her brother, Adrian Hernandez.
“My mom enrolled me and my brother in soccer and we kept playing,” she said. “We were either in (recreational) leagues or traveling teams every summer as long as we could.”
Soccer didn’t just catch on for her, Hernandez said, but also for her brother, who is now a junior at MCHS and a player on the MCHS boys varsity soccer team.
Both siblings play goalie, and like any other siblings, Hernandez said they compete to see who’s better.
“Adrian is 6’1”, so he can definitely get the higher balls, but I save more balls,” she said. “I help him, but he doesn’t like the criticism. We compete to see who is the better goalie, but we do cheer each other on as well.”
Hernandez said through all her years of playing soccer, she has come to one conclusion — soccer is the best.
“I think soccer is the real football,” she said. “You get such an adrenaline rush and the only protection we have is our shin guards, so we leave games with bumps and bruises.”
Hernandez said goalies get as physical as defenders and forwards who are always in physical battles over the ball.
“Goalies can’t be afraid of the ball,” she said. “We have to be fast on our feet and on our toes the entire game. I have to sacrifice my body to make sure I stop the ball.”
Harry Tripp, the head coach of the MCHS girls varsity soccer team, said Hernandez takes control of the leadership role in the goalie box.
“Imelda has developed into a leader and improved her game,” he said. “She works hard and has a real grasp on what she is supposed to do.”
Tripp said Hernandez’s passion for the game is unrivaled.
“She brings a love of the game to practice and to the games,” he said. “She has a passion for soccer that I think all the girls look at and it motivates them.”
Lending a helping hand
Off the field, Hernandez concentrates on helping others, especially those younger than her.
At 14, she became a volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club of Craig.
“I had been part of the Boys & Girls Club when I was really young and on my 14th birthday, they asked me if I wanted a job there,” she said. “I was the very first person to win the Youth of the Year award in Craig. I just wanted to be a good kid who helped others and stayed out of trouble.”
Hernandez said staying out of trouble has its benefits, but helping children is the biggest reward.
“I like to help younger kids and help teach them to stay active when they get in high school,” she said. “A lot of the kids have no family and no support, so we want to help bring out their special talents and give them that support.”
Mel Ferree, a unit director at the Boys & Girls Club of Craig, said Hernandez easily adapts to any situation she is presented with.
“She is lighthearted and takes things as they come,” she said. “We and the kids throw a lot of stuff at her and she never gets bogged down. She is a very positive thinker and raises challenges to the kids.
“Imelda is an amazing person and is a real inspiration to us staff and all of the kids.”
During the summer, Hernandez participates in 4-H by teaching obedience to her dogs.
At this year’s Moffat County Fair, Hernandez will be the 4-H Fair Queen.
As fair queen, Hernandez said she will be able to award the members with ribbons and represent what 4-H is all about.
“Six years ago I wanted something different to do during the summer,” she said. “I decided to do obedience and showmanship with my dogs, who are mutts, and I have now been a junior leader for four years.”
The next step
With graduation about a month away, Hernandez has her goals set on continuing to help others and sprinkling in a little bit of soccer.
Hernandez will attend Emporia State University in Emporia, Kan., and major in crime and delinquency studies.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals helped push Hernandez to want to make a difference, she said, and put her on the path to be in law enforcement.
“I always wanted to be a cop since I was small so I could help animals,” she said. “I still want to help animals, but now I want to stop bad guys and work in a jail, a prison or even the FBI.”
While soccer was a major focus during much of her high school career, in college the sport will be what Hernandez does in her free time.
“I definitely want to play intramural soccer,” she said. ‘I enjoy the sport and don’t want to give it up.”
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