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Lakeland Graduate Lives Olympic Field Hockey Dream

Melissa Gonzalez was overcome with emotion and started crying as she was told what she had just accomplished.

The 2007 Lakeland alumnus and 2011 University of Connecticut graduate learned she has been selected for the highest honor -- the 2012 United States Women’s Olympic Field Hockey team. Gonzalez is the first player from Section 1 to play for the United States Women’s Olympic field hockey team.

Gonzalez and her teammates open play against Germany at 9:15 p.m. Sunday.

“I immediately started crying because I was so happy,” said Gonzalez, who is living and training in California. “I had never been so happy about anything before, plus I was nervous to find out. It was kind of embarrassing also because the tears were not a few drops. I pretty much sobbed like a baby.”

The 23-year-old Gonzalez, who helped lead Lakeland to New York State Class A championships in 2003 and 2006, is starting on defense. Following an outstanding high school career in which Gonzalez was a high-scoring forward, she had a brilliant career at UConn. Gonzalez was a three-time all-Big-East first-team selection, a two-time first-team All-American, two-time Big East defensive player of the year and the 2010 Mideast Region player of the year. Gonzalez also made the U.S. national team in 2010.

“I played because I loved every aspect of the game,” Gonzalez said. “The ups, the downs and the family-like bonds. Even now it seems so surreal. To play in the Olympics, representing the USA and putting on a field hockey jersey, is the greatest honor of my life. I get to represent my family, friends, community, country and all of those who have helped me along the way. I am just so grateful. I honestly wish I could thank everyone and not forget one person.”

Gonzalez will have a large cheering section as her mother, sisters Erica, Jen and Sara, brother-in-law, Mike, and Lakeland field hockey coach Sharon Sarsen will be in attendance. Even though many of her friends will not be in London, Gonzalez will be followed.

“I am so fortunate and blessed that my family and Sars will be in London,” Gonzalez said. “It means the world that I always have their support. Along with my family and friends, the support I have received from coaches and the community has been very positive and encouraging. I have received letters, emails and text messages telling me they will be supporting me and rooting for me. That makes me want to play that much harder to make them proud.”

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