March 7, 2017
By Joanne Norell
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Following the conclusion of the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup last December in Papua, New Guinea, Monica Flores graduated.
The rising University of Notre Dame women’s soccer senior and recent Mexico national program mainstay aged out of the U-20 program when she celebrated her birthday in January. But beyond graduating from the U-20s, Flores has matured in another way — with that sense of comfort and calm that comes with the undeniable feeling of belonging.
When she first joined the Mexico national program, the naturally soft-spoken defender felt more than a bit of trepidation. A native of Livingston, New Jersey, Flores would be entering the unknown with a new team, new language, new culture — not to mention separation from twin, Sabrina, who was playing with the U.S. system — and fear was her natural response.
“Joining the U-20s was the scariest thing in the world for me,” Flores said. “I didn’t know what to expect and being on my own from Sabrina was weird. Then being with the full team was a very humbling and crazy experience, being away from everything that I knew but in an even more mature environment where all of those things are multiplied because you’re with adults. But I think being put into that environment and being surrounded by those girls made me realize they’re just playing the same game I am and all you need is to connect with them on that level.”
After more than a year of entrenchment with not only the U-20 program, but with the full Mexico Women’s National Team, as well, Flores feels more confident than ever. It’s a confidence born not only of familiarity, but also of success.
— Selección Nacional (@miseleccionmx) March 3, 2017
Now a U-20 graduate, Flores is fresh off her most recent camp invitation with the full national squad, one of several former U-20 players she says joined the full team in camp following the World Cup cycle. The group was invited by U-20 coach Roberto Medina, who coached the full squad in camp as Mexico seeks to fill its vacant coaching position.
It was the first camp for the full Mexico squad in nearly a year, having missed out on an Olympic bid. In the intervening time, players in the national team system trained with their clubs or, as the case may be, with the U-20 squad and university teams.
“It was a new start, a new page,” Flores said. “A lot of new changes. I’m not sure if (Medina) is going to officially be the head coach, but for now he’s taking that role, so he called a bunch of the U-20s in to join a lot of the older girls who have been with the team a little bit.”
The trip included training and scrimmaging against professional competition in Mexico City and a friendly against Canada in Vancouver during Canada’s Olympic bronze medal celebration on February 4. Flores — who earned her first international cap last winter with Mexico at the Four Nations Tournament in China, and later played with Mexico during Olympic qualifying — played the full 90 minutes at outside left back and helped the team in a tight decision, though the visitors fell 3-2 to the hosts.
The amount of comfort, quietness, and serenity that fills me every time I step foot into Mexico is actually unreal 😌🇲🇽🙏⚽️
“It was a loss for us, but we showed a lot of promise within the team. After only being together for 10 days, it was very, very promising (to play that well) against the Canadian National Team. They’ve been together for four years and for a new group to come in, and for Roberto to instill a lifestyle, culture, what he demanded out of us in training and how we put the tactics he taught us into the game was really promising and we could see a lot of growth. And it was really fun, an amazing experience.”
Flores never imagined those kinds of amazing experiences when she first joined the program.
“I hadn’t had a lot of national team exposure even before joining the U-20s with Mexico, just a little bit with the U.S. when I was younger,” Flores said. “I wasn’t expecting anything other than to be put into a very uncomfortable environment. But slowly with each camp, each time I got there I felt like this was my team, my family. I think after the qualifiers for the (U-20) World Cup, I felt like I really had a good impact on the team and — I had no idea this was going to come — I got my first call-up to join the full team right after that.”
The call-up did come with some hesitation, which she ultimately turned into another learning experience.
“It was surreal. I felt like ‘I’m not mature enough to be here, playingwise and agewise,’ but after that camp I knew I grew a lot and at this camp, I felt a lot more comfortable with the girls, which was awesome. I felt more comfortable, more mature in my game; I wasn’t as scared or timid and I felt I was much closer to their level.”
Now, she just takes it in stride, the inevitable ebb and flow of emotions that comes along with growing both as a player and a person.
“Now, I’m not so scared of change because I realize that change has made me grow so much in the past few years. Even so, I was nervous going into this camp, but I knew at the end I wouldn’t be because I would have grown so much again.”
Flores will reunite with many from her days with the Mexico U-20 team when the Irish women’s soccer team hosts Mexico in their annual friendly on April 28 at Alumni Stadium. The match will take place as part of a doubleheader with the Notre Dame men’s soccer program, with the women’s match slated for 5 p.m. ET, followed by the men’s at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Joanne Norell, athletics communications assistant director 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.