By Rick Atkinson

For the Anna-Melissa Tribune

MELISSA – Melissa senior Hanna Waters will continue her impressive soccer career at Mary Hardin-Baylor University in Belton. The three-time All-District forward made it official Feb. 6, when she signed her National Letter of Intent at Melissa High School. Plenty of Waters’ friends, teammates, coaches and family attended the noon-hour event held in the main gymnasium.

“I’m excited to play in college,” Waters said. “I’m excited to play at Mary Hardin-Baylor. They have a really good soccer program – and nursing program. I want to major in nursing. It’s, like, the perfect school for me.”

Waters is part of a Lady Cards varsity program that has never lost a district match - and last season, the team earned its first-ever trip to the state tournament in Georgetown. She and the Lady Cards are currently in the midst of another potentially memorable season.

“Hanna is one of the few that has been in the program for all six years,” Lady Cards head coach Manuel Avila told the gathering. “She helped us start the middle school program, helped us develop [varsity soccer] to what it is today.”

Avila noted Waters’ battles with injuries and illness during her career – events that finally caused Waters’ father, Brad Waters, to joke with Avila, “What are you doing to my child?”

“Last year,” Avila said, “Hanna got the opportunity to truly prove herself … and show what kind of teammate she was.” That’s when Waters returned to the lineup just as Melissa headed into the playoffs. “And it was about that time that Payton Wallace gets hurt. It was her time to shine. She was one of the catalysts for us as went through our playoff run last year. Almost every single game, she had a goal, an assist or both - all the way to the state tournament.

“She has been a blessing to our program. I think the girls would agree that they love her very much and they’re going to miss her. But we also know that we’re going to send her to ‘bigger and better.’”

Waters has played select soccer since the third grade and, before that, Little League rec ball since kindergarten. Brad Waters recalled the first time she ever played - in a three-on-three match with other young girls just learning. After seeing her teammates score a couple of goals, Waters caught on quickly.

“I was looking at Hanna,” Brad Waters said. “She was like, ‘Ball, net, everybody cheers.’ In the second half, she scored seven times. … She’s lived for it. It’s something she’s enjoyed.”

Dad also noted the commitment required to play select sports. “Every year we would sit down to sign her new contract for her new club sport for that year. We’d pray about it and say, ‘Is playing college soccer still what our goal is?’ … Every year she said, ‘Dad, this is my goal. I want to play college soccer.’” Brad Waters replied, “If you want to do it, I will feed you as much soccer as I can afford. I’m just proud for her, proud of her. She gets to go out and fulfill that goal.”

Said Julie Waters, “It’s been a fun thing that we’ve been able to participate in the soccer program, outside the school as well as inside the school. … I’m excited that she’s chosen an amazing university, a Christian university.”

Of course, watching high school soccer matches in January and February can be challenging – and bone-chilling. “Cold and snowy and rainy - we were there at every one of them,” Julie Waters said.

Waters was also joined this day by her brother, Andrew Waters, her grandparents Terry and Joan Waters, and her grandfather, Dave Bengtson.

Waters named her parents as her top role models. “They’ve always encouraged me to play soccer. They haven’t pushed me, but they’ve definitely encouraged me and helped me get to where I am.”

Her favorite Lady Card memories to date - besides going to state - are pre-game “parties” in the locker room. “I’ve never laughed so hard with any group of girls other than them,” Waters said. “I’m sad to leave because I’m going to miss everyone here. But I’m excited to start a new chapter in my life.”