Jan. 25, 2016
By Joanne Norell
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Change has always been Monica Flores’ biggest fear.
That’s not to say that the University of Notre Dame women’s soccer sophomore always shies away from shifts in her environment or life circumstance. That would have made the decision to play collegiate soccer at Notre Dame — nearly 700 miles from her home in Livingston, New Jersey — almost unbearable. Accepting an invitation to play with the Mexican Under-20 Women’s National Team last spring? Impossible.
Yet Flores routinely takes that fear and turns it into a personal challenge. She’s flourished as a starter on the Irish back line, and recently helped the Mexico U20s clinch a spot at the 2016 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup with a third-place finish at the CONCACAF U20 Women’s Championship in Honduras in mid-December.
Her most recent challenge? An invitation to play with the full Mexico Women’s National Team, with which she earned her first international cap over the weekend.
“I have learned that change, and finding yourself in uncomfortable situations is the only way to grow, both on and off the field,” Flores said.
Flores received the invitation to play with Mexico from head coach Leo Cuellar almost immediately following her performance as a starting defender during the U20 women’s championship. She recorded 406 minutes and one assist in five games as Mexico joined the United States and Canada as U20 World Cup qualifiers.
But with the invitation came just a bit of that fear. After all, the prospect of playing with the full national team — with the opportunity to play during 2016 Olympic qualifying — would be the most daunting yet.
“Initially deciding to join the Mexican U20 national team in the spring [of 2015] was a huge decision and change for me. I would be going in to the unknown,” Flores said. “Now that I have been invited in with the full national team, the change is escalated to a whole new level, which has made it a whole lot scarier.”
That didn’t stop Flores from hopping on a plane to Mexico to join the team in camp from January 10-15. At the end of those five days, she was selected to join the team for a 10-day trip to Shenzhen, China, to compete against China, South Korea and Vietnam in the Four Nations Tournament, an annual international friendly. The team played China to a scoreless draw on January 21 and defeated South Korea 2-0 on Saturday, when Flores earned her first international cap. The team will conclude play on Tuesday against Vietnam.
— ND Women’s Soccer (@NDSoccer) January 25, 2016
The team will return to Mexico City for training January 28-February 5, after which it will head to Texas for the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying held February 10-21. A roster of 21 will be selected to take part in the Olympic qualifier, with the decision coming either immediately following the Four Nations Tournament or the subsequent team camp.
Flores has had to adapt to the maturity that comes with playing on a team consisting of women aged 22-36, a bit of an adjustment for the 19-year-old. But even more than the off-the-field maturity is the acclimation to the way the game is played at the highest level — but it comes with its perks.
“The play is more mature, the speed of play is much faster and standards are much higher, of course,” Flores said. “Soccer and game knowledge is a must at this level.”
“Every single one of these girls I am playing with now I look up to. They are my role models, and it is so awesome to be playing side-by-side with them.”
Should she make the cut, whether Flores ultimately competes at the Olympic qualifier in Texas will depend on if accommodations can be made to her class schedule. She is dedicated to staying on pace with her pre-med curriculum and would need her absences approved by her teachers.
Through it all, Flores continues to lean on her Notre Dame teammates. Though homesickness still hits in spurts, the wonders of technology allow Flores to stay in touch with her Irish cohorts.
“I am texting the girls back at ND soccer constantly for comfort, familiarity and advice,” she said. “They are my home base.”
Joanne Norell, athletics communications assistant at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2014 and coordinates communications efforts for the Notre Dame women’s soccer, men’s tennis, women’s tennis and fencing programs. Norell is a 2011 graduate of Purdue University and earned her master’s degree from Georgetown University in 2013.