Melissa Gonzalez, a 23-year-old athlete, has established herself as one of the top offensive players in the area. Now, the 2007 graduate is going for the gold at the grandest sports arena – the Olympics.
Gonzalez became a member of the USA Women's National Team in 2009 and she was recently nominated as one of 16 women who will be playing in the 2012 London Olympics as part of the Women's Field hockey Team.
"When I found out I was going to London I was thrilled and excited," Gonzalez told Patch.
Lee Bodimeade, head coach of the U.S. Women’s Field Hockey Team, said the U.S. will look to record their first Olympic medal since 1984, after finishing eighth at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
"We are not going to the Olympics for the experience, we are going to win," Bodimeade said in a statement. "That is our goal and that has been and is our approach to this Olympic Games. We are really looking forward to the challenge ahead of us at the biggest sporting event in the world.”
Gonzalez, who is originally from Mohegan Lake and now lives in California, said she formally started playing field hockey when she was a student at . When she was in elementary school, her two older sisters Jennifer and Sara used to take her to Lakeland coach Sharon Sarsen's summer camps.
"What I enjoy the most about [field hockey] is being able to compete and compete with teammates who support you," she said.
Coach Sarsen, who coached Gonzalez on the varsity team for four years, said the young woman stood out while she was in high school.
"She was faster, more intense, more skilled and made plays all over the field," Sarsen said. "We won two state championships in field hockey during her tenure, and we made it to States in lacrosse for the first time in a bunch of years. She was a difference maker."
She called Gonzalez "amazingly competitive, intense athlete," who was "driven and talented."
"It was obvious from the first time I met her that she was a special athlete," Sarsen said.
In turn, the Olympian said she learned about hard work and how to strive for goals she wanted to achieve while she was at Lakeland.
"I had a lot of great teachers and friends who helped shape me and push me in the right direction, whether it was great advice or just a listening ear," Gonzalez said.
The USA Women's Field Hockey Olympic team will depart for London on July 21. The London 2012 Olympics run from July 27 to August 12.
Gonzalez said her family has made plans to travel to London. Her three sisters Erica, Jennifer, and Sara along with her brother-in-law Michael and her mother Yolanda will be there to cheer her on.
"My family has supported me through thick and thin," the athlete said. "Whether it was taking me outside and practicing with me or giving me tips that were helpful they showed up to each event and supported me no matter what; win or lose. I could never thank them enough for their encouragement, listening ear, advice, and light-hearted jokes."
Gonzalez was a three-time All American for Lakeland Field Hockey and an All American for Lakeland/Panas Lacrosse. She was also All American at University of Connecticut, along with many other awards. She was also a finalist (one of the top four collegiate players) during her senior year for the Honda Award.