The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Outstanding Female Senior Athlete: Henderson earns All-American honors, breaks records

Megan Golden | Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Driven by her deep faith and competitive spirit, Irish senior forward Melissa Henderson discovered her role as silent assassin at Notre Dame, where she emerged as an immediate threat and carried the program to its third national title.

Henderson started 86 games and scored 70 goals during her four-year Irish career, earning her place in the record book with a program-high 24 match-winning goals scored.

Irish coach Randy Waldrum said Henderson will go down in Irish history alongside the likes of former Notre Dame standouts Jenny Streiffer, Carrie Dew and Kerri Hanks.

“She’s been blessed with some God-given abilities with her speed, physical strength, and her athleticism. If she had the skills she has but not those other qualities, she wouldn’t be the player she is,” he said. “She’s earned a lot of that with the time she’s put in to develop.”

Henderson is a four-time all-Big East selection and was named the 2010 Big East most outstanding offensive player. Following her senior season, she was named the first runner-up to the Hermann Trophy and awarded third-team All-America honors.

Characteristically shying away from the limelight, Henderson said her faith motivates her to be her best.

“I don’t even really see myself as good,” she said. “I set goals, and I prayed about it. I’ve always wanted to try to use my abilities to glorify God because everything I’ve been through and being able to play this sport is all to Him.”

Despite Henderson’s 20 starts and 17 goals as a freshman, Waldrum said she struggled to understand her role as a scoring threat. With the attention focused on former Irish forwards Hanks and Brittany Bock, Henderson flew under the radar early in her career.

“We were trying at that point to get her to realize, ‘No, Mel, it’s you, too. You have to carry some of the load’. Almost telling her she needs to be more selfish in her play,” Waldrum said. “She really seemed to get that her junior year, the year we won the championship.”

In 2010, Henderson led Notre Dame to its fifth consecutive trip to the College Cup and its third national title in program history. She finished the 2010 NCAA tournament with three goals and four assists, including an assist in the national championship that gave the Irish a 1-0 win over previously-unbeaten Stanford.

“When we won the national championship, I was in tears. It was definitely the proudest moment of my life,” Henderson said. “When the whistle blew, I just got down on my knees and prayed and thanked God for this opportunity because it was just surreal, and there’s no better person than Jesus to thank for the opportunity.”

A natural competitor, Henderson was named co-captain her senior year alongside Notre Dame senior defender Jessica Schuveiller and senior midfielder Courtney Barg. The three co-captains had played on the same club team throughout high school and hail from Dallas, Waldrum’s hometown.

Schuveiller said fans and teammates looked up to Henderson as a role model on and off the field.

“I think Melissa sometimes doesn’t even know the power she has as a player and as a person. I don’t think she realizes how much people look up to her,” she said. “People respect her ability and [her] as a person. Anytime she does something or makes a play, it’ll change the game because other people will be impacted by it.”

Despite her humility, Henderson said she has taken advantage of her stage and has done her best to live out her faith for others to witness. She could be seen praying with her head in her shirt as she walked on the field prior to each game.

Henderson said she was able to maintain a positive outlook throughout her senior season, when the Irish finished 10-8-3.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t win back-to-back national championships, but I got to be coached by some of the best coaches in the country. I got to play with some of the best girls in the country. I got to meet people that I’ll know the rest of my life,” Henderson said. “You’re sad to end on a note like that soccer-wise, but if you look at it as a whole life aspect, I think it was a win for me.”

Henderson said she joked with Waldrum about how she wished she would have been injured one year in order to be eligible for a fifth year at Notre Dame.

“For me, I need to move on to my new chapter, and it doesn’t involve being with the coaches and players I’ve been with for the past four years,” Henderson said. “I’m not ready, but that’s what I think is special in a way. I don’t know what’s ahead of me, and I’m just going to take it as God puts it in front of me. It’s just going to open up a lot more excitement.”

Just days after Henderson was drafted second overall to the Sky Blue FC in the Women’s Professional Soccer draft, league officials were forced to suspend the 2012 season due to legal matters. Henderson will spend the summer as a member of the Boston Breakers, a team affiliated with the WPS.

Waldrum said he has high expectations for Henderson’s future, predicting a professional career similar to those of Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm.

“The challenge is still there from me,” he said. “I think she should continue to follow that dream because she’s got enough talent to lead us for another decade in the World Cup.”

Henderson said she is excited for her professional career to commence, and she is ready to experience all that God has planned in her life.

“I’m more excited than ever just to even play this summer. If soccer’s not it, it’s not it,” she said. “I’m just excited for where He wants me to go in life. I’m not going to plan anything, and I’m tired of trying to plan ahead. I’m just going to let Him make the footsteps for me, and I’m just going to go after it.”

Contact Megan Golden at [email protected]