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Senior athlete of the year: Kerri Hanks

Fran Tolan | Friday, May 15, 2009

Irish coach Randy Waldrum first saw senior forward Kerri Hanks play when she was just 10 years old. Apparently, Hanks – who has 83 goals and 73 assists in her Notre Dame career – was a natural.

“She was just a shorter version of what you see now,” Waldrum said. “She was always very competitive and from a very young age, you could see she had some special ability.”

Waldrum, who like Hanks hails from Texas, said the state’s soccer community is very tight-knit and he met Hanks through her family.

“Our friends were friends with her parents and I coached in camps with her brother,” Waldrum said. “It’s just a small world out there but that’s how we got our eyes on her.”

Hanks said she was not even completely sure how she came to know her future coach.

“It was just a family connection, one family to another to another,” she said. “It’s kind of hard to explain.”

Regardless of how the two met, though, they teamed up at Notre Dame to put together four of the best seasons in Irish history.

Just missed

Hanks played just two years of soccer at Allen High School before deciding to compete exclusively on United States national teams. She was recruited to come to Notre Dame as a freshman in 2004, the year the Irish last won their most recent national championship. But Hanks said she elected not to join the team that fall because she was busy “traveling.”

“Kerri’s actually very modest,” Waldrum said. “What she was actually doing after high school was playing with the U.S. [Under-19] national team when they won it all.”

Hanks arrived at Notre Dame in the spring of 2005 but only after the Irish put the finishing touches on a 24-1-1 championship season. Hanks did not win a national title during her time on campus.

Individual accolades

Since joining the Irish, Hanks has had an almost unparalleled career.

She was a second-team All-America selection as a freshman before becoming the youngest-ever Hermann Trophy winner as the top player in the country as a sophomore. That season, she joined former North Carolina great Mia Hamm as the only other player to lead the nation in both goals and assists.

This season, Hanks has reached a new milestone virtually every week. When she recorded two assists in an NCAA quarterfinal win over Florida State last Friday, Hanks moved past Hamm into a tie for second place on the all-time assist list.

“I actually haven’t thought about all of [the honors] yet,” Hanks said. “The records have obviously been great and I’m speechless about it still … It hasn’t really set in yet.”

Hanks is only the third player ever to notch 70 career goals and 70 assists.

On Jan. 9, Hanks became only the fourth women’s player to win the Hermann Trophy twice, joining the ranks of Hamm, Cindy Parlow and Christine Sinclair. Hanks was the first player to win the award in non-consecutive seasons.

“I’m grateful to everyone at Notre Dame – my teammates, coaches, staff and our fans who are the greatest in the country – for all of their support, not only this year but throughout my career,” Hanks said in a statement released by the athletic department. “I will always treasure the friendships I made at Notre Dame and will carry those memories with me forever.”

Still, Hanks said she would rather have earned a national championship trophy than any individual honor. And she said she wants to leave a legacy as a good teammate rather than a top statistical performer.

“I would rather win than have the records,” she said. “I just want the younger players to look up to me.”

Besides, Hanks said, it would have been much more difficult to put up such gaudy statistics if she did not play for a premier team like Notre Dame.

“It would be impossible without my teammates to finish off those assists and set up those free kicks for me to take,” she said. “Without my teammates and [Waldrum] I wouldn’t be able to get those records.”

The missing piece to the puzzle

Hanks and her classmates garnered almost every team and individual honor except the national championship. The team has made it to the College Cup in each of the past three seasons but has never earned the title, losing once in the semifinals and twice in the championship.

Despite the disappointing results, Waldrum said Hanks’ competitiveness can frequently be seen in her emotional on-field nature.

“She’s highly competitive,” Waldrum said. “What [fans] see a little trace of on the field, we see every day in training.”

Waldrum said Hanks is serious even during daily scrimmages.

“Kerri will always let me know what the score is in practice,” Waldrum said. “If I have the wrong score, she’ll let me know if I’m wrong.”

Hanks said she knows she might rub some people the wrong way during games but said her attitude simply reflects her will to win.

“I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not very nice out there,” she said. “I tell everyone on the team, whether it’s the reserves or even [fellow senior Brittany Bock] if they’re doing something wrong.”

But Hanks said she is critical of herself, as well.

“I expect my teammates to do the same to me, if I’m not doing my best,” she said. “… Once I step off the field it’s completely different. But if I do anything wrong, I’d expect my teammates to step up and yell at me.”

Taking it to the next level

On Jan. 16, Hanks learned that she’d be playing soccer beyond her years at Notre Dame when she was picked with the sixth overall selection in the inaugural Women’s Professional Soccer draft.

Hanks was selected by the St. Louis Athletica, just one pick after teammate Brittany Bock was snatched by the Los Angeles Sol.

The WPS is the second attempt at women’s professional soccer in the U.S. The Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) was founded in 2000 but only survived three seasons before folding. With fresh stars like those coming off the Irish graduating class, many hold hopes the WPS will survive longer than its predecessor.

Boasting internationally-famed players like Brazil’s Marta (Los Angeles Sol) and America’s own Abby Wambach (Washington Freedom), the WPS stands a fighting chance.

Hanks has played in five games so far for St. Louis, who sit in fifth place in the WPS standings.

This story originally appeared in the Dec. 5, 2008 edition of The Observer.