Lakeland Grad Excels on U.S. Field Hockey Team in Olympics

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The United States field hockey team may have fallen short in the quarterfinals at the Rio Olympic Games Monday, but Lakeland High School graduate Melissa Gonzalez played an integral part in the squad’s success.

The 27-year-old midfielder from Mohegan Lake scored goals in consecutive games during the tournament and created several other scoring chances for the fifth ranked U.S. team. Gonzalez also competed for the U.S. in the 2012 Summer Olympics, where the team finished last.

“Thank you to all who have encouraged and inspired me. This journey would not have been possible without you,” Gonzalez posted on her Facebook page. “I love you all and let’s go States!”

The 2007 Lakeland graduate led the Hornets to a four-year record of 82-5-2, including two state championships and a perfect 24-0 mark her senior year. She holds the school’s record in goals, assists and points. Her coach, Sharon Sarsen, was rooting for Gonzalez and her teammates in Rio.

Gonzalez continued her superior play at the University of Connecticut where she was a 2010 NFHCA All-America First Team, NFHCA Mideast Region Player of the Year, back-to-back titleholder of the Big East Defensive Player of the Year and Honda Sports Award finalist.

“I’m grateful for anyone who has given me an opportunity,” Gonzalez stated in a pre-Olympic profile article. “I’ve been fortunate that a lot of people have extended themselves for me, not even necessarily about field hockey but about life. UConn, the staff and my teammates, were integral in shaping me as a person and player nurturing my never-give-up attitude.”

Gonzalez’s inner fortitude was severely tested in 2006 when her father, Felix, died at the age of 57. Felix Gonzalez served on the Lakeland Board of Education and was Athletic Coordinator at Walter Panas High School. Melissa’s high school soccer teammates gave her sweat bands with her father’s initials after he died and she continues to wear them on her elbows in his memory.

“I could have let it break me down, which it did for a while, or I could honor him by choosing to fight, and to fight hard in everything I do,” she said. “Whatever I come up against now, I know I can handle because nothing will ever be as difficult as losing him. I am fortunate to even have had someone like that in life. Some people don’t.”

Gonzalez, who lives in San Diego, California, also spoke about the sacrifices that are necessary to be an Olympic athlete.

“While there is glamor and appeal to the Olympic Games, we train at the same high energy level all day, all year, no matter the occasion,” Gonzalez said. “This isn’t a typical 9 to 5 job, it almost becomes an obsession to a certain degree. To give anything less on any given day is a loss of opportunity.”



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