For as long as she can remember, Hensley Hancuff has wanted to play in the National Women’s Soccer League. As Draft Day approached, her excitement outweighed her nerves. “I was nervous, but I was beyond excited to start the rest of my career,” Hancuff told Jersey Sporting News. “I’ve wanted this my entire life - my entire career has led up to this moment.”
The 6' 3" goalkeeper out of Clemson University had a good feeling she would get picked up but knew that drafts come with a degree of uncertainty. When she heard her name called as the 34th overall pick for Gotham FC, she was so grateful. “There are different pathways to get to the NWSL besides the draft,” Hancuff said. “But having your name called out is one of the greatest honors I can think of.”
Because she was picked in the third round, the Oklahoma native and her family had already sat through hours of picks leading up to her selection. Just before her name was called, her phone rang, and the number that popped up had an Oklahoma area code. “When I saw that area code, I knew it was Scott Parkinson,” Hancuff recalled. “I answered, but I don’t really remember what happened because it was so overwhelming!”
These FaceTimes almost make the timeouts worth it 🥲
— NJ/NY Gotham FC (@GothamFC) December 18, 2021
Surrounded by her mom and family, Hancuff was so happy she got to share the moment with those closest to her. “I’m super grateful that I was picked by Gotham FC,” she said. “I can’t think of a better place to be.”
A Unique Perspective
Although Hancuff is ready for this new challenge in her life, her perspective is unique among her peers. At the age of 17, she discovered that she had been living with cancer for well over a year and had to undergo laparoscopic surgery during which doctors removed two tumors from her ovaries.
“Everyone has a different story in their lives,” Hancuff said. “But I was faced with having cancer at 17, and even though that part of my life is over, I’ve matured a lot along the way.” For Hancuff, becoming a professional soccer player is the easy part. “I get to enjoy this process, even the hard days - every day will be a challenge and I’m so grateful for that. I was put on this earth to play soccer.” She is thankful for everyone that has supported her during that hard time, but she’s ready to put her head down and get to work.
I want to grind - I want to bring energy and support, and be a leader with this team.
As Hancuff enters this next part of her soccer career, she does so with invaluable experience, and not just at the collegiate level. During her senior year of high school in 2017, she was invited to train for a few months with the Orlando Pride by goalkeeping coach Lloyd Yaxley. “I wasn’t expecting much, but then on my first day I was training with Marta, Alex Morgan, and Ashlyn Harris.” Hancuff recalled. “These were players I grew up watching on TV!”
This first exposure to a professional environment showed Hancuff how it is both fun and competitive to play and train at that level. “Being able to train with Ashlyn Harris for a few months was amazing,” Hancuff said. “It’s full circle now, I can’t wait to see her again.”
In fact, Hancuff sees similarities between her and Harris that she believes will only make their professional relationship stronger. “She’s a big personality and super passionate, and I’m also a big personality,” she said. “We’re going to feed off of each other so well.”
Hancuff is in awe of Harris’s professional career. She has already learned so much from her during their short time training together, and cannot wait to learn even more. “I am so excited to get back to that mentality and mindset of pushing each other to be better players. She has had an exceptional career and I want to push her and her to push me.”
After training with the Pride, Hancuff graduated high school, had her surgery and recovery, and started college in January 2018. She spent the first part of her collegiate career at Villanova University but transferred to Clemson for her junior year in 2020. Clemson also happens to be the alma mater of Gotham's departing starting goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan.
“It’s super inspiring because Clemson is known for producing amazing goalkeepers,” Hancuff said, also referencing Sandy MacIver, the current goalkeeper for Everton’s FA WSL side. Hancuff spent time training at the Keeper Institute during her years at Villanova, and it was there that she became familiar with Kailen Sheridan.
That feeling when years of hard work PAYS OFF 🤩
— Clemson Women's Soccer (@clemsonwsoccer) December 19, 2021
When she transferred to Clemson, she knew that Sheridan had excelled in that program. She was excited to also train under goalkeeping coach Siri Mullinix. “There was some pressure to follow in Kailen’s footsteps at Clemson, but every goalkeeper is different - it’s hard to compare because we all play so differently.”
Hancuff’s familiarity with Gotham FC doesn’t end with the players but extends to the coaching staff. Growing up in Oklahoma, she met Gotham head coach Scott Parkinson while playing youth club soccer. “Scott Parkinson was a coach for one of the clubs I played for here,” Hancuff recalled. “I never got to play under him because he coached the older girls at the time, but I knew who he was. The Oklahoma soccer community is small.”
Hancuff believes having that previously established relationship with Parkinson before this whole process has helped her immensely. She’s already spoken to him multiple times since draft day. “I’m really excited to continue our professional relationship because we already have a really good foundation,” Hancuff said. “He’s an amazing coach and an even better person.”
Making Her Mark
As she prepares to join the team in 2022, Hancuff is getting ready to make her mark at Gotham FC. She knows that there are limited opportunities for a rookie goalkeeper, but she won’t let this stop her from putting her head down and getting to work. “I want to grind - I want to bring energy and support, and be a leader with this team,” Hancuff said. “As a rookie, I know that can be hard, but I want to do everything I can to earn everyone’s respect while also learning about everyone.”
I want to grow into a loud voice in the community, and I look forward to meeting Cloud 9, and I can’t wait to get out onto the field and get to work.
She is looking forward to becoming friends with her teammates and learning about their individual stories. “I’m going to bring that energy of getting to work,” Hancuff said, “Let’s win a championship!” She believes Gotham is the team to watch in the NWSL and sees them becoming a powerhouse over the next couple of years.
“I can’t think of anywhere better to be,” she said. “Not only do they have an incredible training environment, but they also play at Red Bull Arena! Are you kidding me!? I’ve never played in a stadium that big!” She is relishing the opportunity to even just be on the sidelines there. “It’s a dream come true, but it’s time to get to work.”
Opportunity to Excel
Hancuff feels blessed to be where she is today and plans to take advantage of every opportunity she is given. “Opportunities are few and far between,” she said, and she wants to take the opportunity to engage with her new community in New Jersey/New York. “I want to grow into a loud voice in the community. I look forward to meeting Cloud 9, and I can’t wait to get out onto the field and get to work.”
Getting involved in the local community is also important to Hancuff. “Giving back to the local community is super important to me,” she said. “All we can do is just be nice to each other - that’s all we have to do. It’s really not that hard!”
WHAT. A. SAVE.
Hensley Hancuff keeps the Tigers in it!! 😤 pic.twitter.com/lpVzTit0kM
— Clemson Women's Soccer (@clemsonwsoccer) November 5, 2021
As Hancuff embarks on this new journey, she is incredibly thankful to her mom and little brother. “They have been my rocks since day one,” she said. “I could not have gotten through my cancer situation without them by my side.” She also credits her previous goalkeeping coach Alexis Visereli who helped her develop into the player she is today, along with her representative Cody Laurendi. “I also am so grateful to Clemson for taking me in,” Hancuff said. “When I was really down, they helped me find the love of the game again, especially after everything I went through.”
Hancuff wants Gotham to know she’s ready and she’s coming. “I’m excited to get in there and meet everyone, but I’m looking forward to bringing a good energy and getting to work - and the cold weather! I love the snow.”
The NWSL returns to action on March 19th, 2022 with the third iteration of the Challenge Cup tournament. To watch Hensley Hancuff and the rest of the Gotham FC squad next season visit Gotham FC's website to purchase tickets.