By Celia Balf
Last season North Carolina Courage forward Kristen Hamilton did not disappoint when she stepped into a starting position for the first time in her career on June 17 against the Boston Breakers. The Courage was without the dynamic tag team of forwards Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald who were both sidelined nursing injuries, so head coach Paul Riley called on Hamilton. The 36th overall pick at the 2014 NWSL College Draft went on to score a brace just 13 minutes into the first half, eventually leading her team to a 3-1 victory at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park. In 2017, Hamilton started in 12 out of her 16 games played in the regular season and scored three goals and chipped in one assist.
Fast forward to now and Hamilton is fully in the grind of preseason with the Courage, gearing up for her fifth NWSL season. NWSL Media got the chance to catch up with Hamilton on her off-day.
The North Carolina Courage kick off their 2018 season on Saturday, March 24 at 3:30 p.m. ET (Lifetime) against Portland Thorns FC at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Question: Three goals last season, two of which in the opening 13 minutes against the Breakers in June. Can you walk me through that game, and how that motivated you for the rest of the season?
Kristen Hamilton: That whole week leading up to the game was kind of a whirlwind, obviously we had some injuries behind Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald. It’s hard as a forward on this team getting significant minutes and getting those opportunities to start, so going into the week I knew I had a shot at getting that starting spot and Paul [Riley] kind of pulled me aside and let me know that this is kind of my chance. So obviously I was a little nervous, I hadn’t started before and you know all of the nerves that come with the game in general and on top of that there is obviously a little bit of pressure because you want to perform and showcase what I have to offer and make a name for myself. But yeah, it was nuts!
— NWSL (@NWSL) June 17, 2017
The first goal came within the first five minutes of the game. [It was] just the perfect ball from Sam Mewis in behind, [and it] slipped right past the keeper. I was obviously ecstatic. That was kind of a surreal moment; one of those moments where you kind of black out a little bit and you’re like “I don’t even know what just happened.” After that I kind of settled in a little bit. And then off the corner, [the ball] happened to fall right to me in the middle of the six-yard box and when I scored that I remember Sam Mewis picking me up and being like “Are you kidding me? You’ve gotta [got to] be kidding me!” And I was almost just laughing, because I just couldn’t believe. But yeah it was just a completely surreal moment.
I think it gave my teammates a lot of belief in me. Not that there was a lack of that necessarily in general, but just [because] being behind Lynn and Jess there are big shoes to fill and I think that it gave my team a little bit of confidence knowing that whoever is playing up top, whether it’s me, Lynn, Jess, Hatchy, that we were going to be able to score goals. And I think that that was a huge lift in momentum for the team, and obviously through the rest of the season it gave Paul confidence in me knowing that I can go onto the field and make an impact and knowing that I could just be an impact player in this league.
— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) March 9, 2018
Q: Now you’re all back at it, full swing in preseason, what have been the highs and lows so far?
Hamilton: Preseason has been awesome. I feel like the lows were just the first two weeks not having all the national team players in, kind of people in and out. You always want the highest level of competition and you want your whole team together as a unit growing and progressing through preseason. So I would say part of the lows is just not having them there, but I have been really impressed with the rookies and everyone invited in, and even the returning players it’s amazing to see how sharp and fit everyone looks. It has been such a great environment this preseason and Paul has obviously done a great job at keeping us fit, which we obviously don’t always enjoy. But it’s just been really fun and the group seems really cohesive. It kind of seems like we are picking up where we left off. [Which means] we can jump in and start diving deeper into our systems and how we want to play for the rest of the season. It doesn’t really seem like there has been that lag time of getting people comfortable, it has all just kind of flowed which has been a really big up for us.
Q: How do you see your role shaping this year?
Hamilton: It’s hard to say. Obviously I feel like I have made a name for myself a little bit last season, and Paul has voiced that to me as well, and he has a lot of confidence in me and my versatility as a player. So I have been playing at forward, I’ve been playing in the 10, I’ve been playing in the midfield, kind of all over the place this season. But, that is one thing that he [Riley] has harped me that he can play me anywhere and I know the role, which is a good thing to have in my back pocket, I guess. I obviously want to be a starter again and that is my ultimate goal to come in and make an immediate impact for the team, and whether that’s in the midfield and assisting or up top in goals, I am open to whatever, I just want to help the team be successful and continue to progress and continue to grow and whatever role Paul sees fit for me I will embrace it however I can and hopefully help the team continue to grow and progress this season.
Q: What are your personal goals for this season?
Hamilton: Ah, you know one thing I have learned playing for Paul the past few years now is not to set goals, and people think that is crazy especially in sports, but he has really harped in us is just trusting the process and enjoying the process, and so personally that is what I want to focus on not necessarily the number of goals I score, or number of games I start or play in, but more personal growth and just continue to get better day in and day out. And finding a way that I can make an impact on the team whatever that role may be.
Q: Looking ahead, big home opener in a couple weeks, how excited are you for this?
Hamilton: It is obviously exciting, everyone wants a little bit of redemption I think. I don’t think the final did the NWSL or either of our teams justice, necessarily. So I think that everyone is eager to get back out there and see where we’re at. But it is a little bit of a different team though, so it isn’t necessarily a total rematch which you would love to have, but there is this kind of rivalry that has bloomed even when we were at the Flash so yeah, it is definitely a big game. We’re also going to be in front of our home crowd which we get awesome fans out to the game, so I think everyone is super excited to see where were at and building off of that first performance for the rest of the season.
"Preseason is an amazing time to bond, prepare and build your house. Having such a prolific game at the end of preseason makes it even more exciting."
— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) February 21, 2018
Q: Is there a specific team or player you’re excited to play against this season?
Hamilton: I am really excited to go to Utah to see the facilities and see what they have there and it is always fun to see how the game is growing and see just the amenities and everything they get so I think in terms of atmosphere it will be really exciting to see how Utah is and it is close to home for me, as well so it is kind of nice I get to see my family and stuff. Team wise, player wise, it’s so hard because this season there has been so much change there has been so much turnover on every team. So I think it is going to be very interesting and I honestly think every game is going to be excited to see how it plays out because I don’t think any team is really who they were last year, so I think it is going to be a really exciting NWSL season.
Q: You mentioned being impressed with the rookies on your team, what piece of advice would you give to a younger player in this league?
Hamilton: Everyone was the best player on their college team. Everyone that comes here was the best player in college. There is only 11 starting spots and it’s a battle and there is a lot of competition so don’t get discouraged when you’re not in the starting line-up because I know where all of you have been, I know we are all used to being the starters every year for four years, so it’s a tough change to come to the NWSL and have such amazing competition and amazing players around you. So to be honest, just don’t be discouraged and continue fighting and battling and you will get your opportunity. And when you get your opportunity just make sure you are ready for it.
Then the second thing that comes to mind is to just soak up all the information you can. Any chance you get ask questions. You know, it’s a different playing style then what you played in college as well so ask questions and try to understand the system and try to learn as much as you possibly can because there are phenomenal soccer players all around you.
Q: So on a day like today where you don’t have training, or fitness testing, what do you do with your downtime?
Hamilton: We have a partnership with cryotherapy, so we all take great advantage of that. Just honestly really trying to get our bodies back to 100%, especially in preseason because it is such a grind. So really just recovery and sometimes baking…or something relaxing.
Q: Baking? What do you like to bake?
Hamilton: Bake some cookies, some banana bread, some…You know whatever comes to mind. I do enjoy cooking, so on off days I will actually go to the grocery store and get some stuff for a nice actual complex meal as a opposed to just doing the fastest meal I can think of. So yeah, I like cooking, just kind of relaxing, watch TV shows and rest, because the rest of the week is non-stop, just so go-go-go, so its really nice to just have a day to yourself.
Q: And lastly, what has been a particularly memorable moment from preseason this year?
Hamilton: Oh, there are so many. One I would say its always pretty comical, when we have new people come into the team, because we do what is called the “Suicide Mile,” which is a fitness thing Paul does with us. And we do it like every six weeks to kind of see a baseline and we did it at the beginning of preseason and everyone was, and it is so funny to see all the rookies and the new people coming into the team because they are just floored that this is what we actually have to run. So it’s actually pretty comical because everyone panics, because it’s really such a mental thing. But, this year they made us run extra on accident because they didn’t measure it properly, so that is funny because the rookies are always like, “What the heck are we doing!”
But then, honestly, my favorite day, that we ever have at training are when we just do shooting. So we will split up into forwards and defenders and we will do one-v-one with the keepers all day and it gets so competitive between Sabrina [D’Angelo] and Katelyn [Rowland] and all of the forwards that we always make it some sort of competition and someone ends up really mad at the end of the day but yeah that is always my highlight because it is so much fun and gets super, super competitive.