Growing up in Northern Ireland as one of four children, freshman Hannah Doherty was always competitive. But now Doherty is gearing up for her second season on Elon University’s women’s soccer team.
Since the age of three, Doherty played organized sports. She started with Gaelic football, an amateur Irish team sport almost exclusively played in Ireland. Doherty’s father played when she was a child.
“When we were bored, we would go watch games,” she said.
At eight years old, Doherty met a friend in school whose father coached a local soccer team. And from then on, she was hooked.
Doherty played competitively throughout her adolescence. She has competed on the Northern Ireland International team since the age of 12 as an “Under 15” up until now as a member of the “Senior National Team.” She captained the national team at the “Under 17” level.
Though the process from recruitment to signing all happened rather quickly, Doherty said the prospect of playing soccer abroad had always excited her.
“It was always something I knew I wanted to do because the opportunities are much greater than the ones at home,” Doherty said. “I was playing internationally, but I feel like at the club level you cant really progress.”
Elon women’s soccer began recruiting internationally in 2015 — making Doherty one of the first international players to join the team. Chris Neal, Elon women’s soccer head coach, said the decision had the potential to bring in women with a unique competitive mentality.
“The talented international player brings a little something different to the game than the traditional American player,” Neal said. “Many of the international players eat sleep and breathe the game. They watch a ton of high-level games and it is an obvious part of the DNA of their cultures.”
Initially, Doherty’s parents were upset at the idea of their daughter moving so far from home.
“But, they know that it is the best and that it’s good to experience different things,” Doherty said. “So they were happy for me as well.”
Before Doherty could hit the field, she had to fill out NCAA paperwork to approve her addition. The paperwork did not come without its hiccups.
“It was sort of confusing,” she said. “…We start high school when we are 11 years old and are there until we are 18. All of our grades were mixed together—whereas here it’s separate. It was hard to understand what was expected of each individual grade but once we got the communication part sorted, it was fine.”
After only three games in her maroon and gold uniform last fall, Doherty was forced to sit on the sidelines after a hamstring injury in the final game before CAA play. But even with only a few games under her belt, Neal could already see the potential the young player has for success.
“Hannah helped us compete at a higher level in the non-conference segment of our fall schedule,” Neal said. “She is a very talented player.”
Just a few weeks ago, after beginning to practice once again, in spring training Doherty tore her meniscus, forcing her to undergo additional surgery. Nevertheless, Neal expects that after four to five months of recovery, Doherty will be ready to return to the field in the fall.While in Ireland this summer, Doherty says she will probably join her international team for training camps, but will likely be unable to participate in games as she rehabs her injury in preparation for next season at Elon.
Doherty appreciates the variety in education she gets while attending an American university — one she wouldn’t get if she had stayed in Ireland.
“At home, we don’t take core classes, we just take our major classes,” she said. “Here you get to experience different sides of each subject.”
As a Sports Management major, Doherty is not sure what the future holds after graduation — but with three years ahead of her —has plenty of time to decide. But for now still wants to work toward playing in The United States “a bit more.”
“My hope for Hannah is very simple,” Neal said. “If she stays healthy, I feel she will be one of the best players in the CAA with a very exciting career in front of her.”