Kai-Lin Hernandez: The Reggae Girlz' Colombian connection

Monday, August 24, 2015

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BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic -- Kai-Lin Hernandez could hardly contain her joy of being a new member of Jamaica's Reggae Girlz set-up chasing the Olympic dream.

Born to a Jamaican mother and a Colombian father, the 19-year-old's face lit up as she spoke about her experiences with the female Jamaica team currently in the Dominican Republic participating in Group Three of the CFU Rio 2016 eliminations.

"For me it's like a dream come true because I have always wanted to play at the university level, and hopefully at the professional level and the international level, and that has always been my goal," she told the Jamaica Observer, flashing that endearing smile.

"The fact that I have the chance to represent Jamaica is simply amazing," added the North Carolina-based Highpoint University student.

That the vivacious Hernandez is here in the Dominican Republic is more by design than fate, and she tells how and why.

"Right now my family is very proud of me and I have worked hard for them and to be able to do what I am doing right now is just great... without the help of my parents, teammates and old coaches, I wouldn't be where I am at right now, it's like it was a community effort to get me where I am, and that's amazing," she said.

For Hernandez, her real baptism into the Reggae Girlz fold at a six-day camp in Winter Springs, Florida, before arriving here, the experience was an eye-popper on many fronts.

"The camp was a great experience to see the level of competition; before I didn't have an idea what the international competition was, I only had glimpses, so to be there training with girls who have done trips before and some of whom have represented the team for a long time, it was good to see where I am at.

"I saw how fit I needed to be, how fast I needed to play and it was a great experience to see the different types of girls who were there in the camp, the fact that we have girls from the States, Canada and from other parts of the world representing Jamaica was pretty cool and to see them working toward a common goal to help the team was amazing," she shared.

Hernandez, who is pursuing a degree in strategic communications, said she learnt quickly that if one wants to succeed with the Reggae Girlz, that individual will have to get into the proverbial fast lane in a jiffy.

And for her, the first couple of days provided a rude awakening.

"When I came in I had no idea what to expect, the players were so fast and Jamaicans are known to be runners and the girls were blowing by me, and even the older girls their level of intensity when they play, even competing against players 10 years younger than them, was awesome.

"The skill level is up there as well, plus their technical skills are up there."

Hernandez, who grew up with mom Sonia and dad Frank in Miami, said one of things she has found out on her fairy tale ride with the Girlz is the high level of football intelligence throughout the group.

"We have soccer knowledge so we know how to play the game, so when the coach talks to us about tactical things and positioning, we understand that, and the fact that we have that high soccer IQ, helps when we train and want to implement the theories and the ideas that the coach wants us to do as a team," she noted.

The Jamaican senior women's footballers are in pursuit of a dream that has eluded all Jamaican football teams -- male and female -- and that is to qualify for the Olympic Games.

Just the thought of that possibility gives Hernandez goose pimples.

"Just being here in itself is a great experience, so to be a part of history would be awesome. But there is belief in what the team can do; the coaching staff believes, the managers, and everyone else is thinking that we can do it," she said.

"Now it's just getting the right group of people that can see that vision actually come true, and being a part of that would be amazing," she beamed.

The Jamaicans were due to face the hosts Dominican Republic in their opening game of the CFU play-offs yesterday, and will close out their two-match series against Dominica tomorrow.

Hernandez, who plays in the centre of midfield, admits that she knows little about the Caribbean opposition.

"I would not know much about our Caribbean opposition, all I know is what I have heard from the girls here in the hotel, but I don't know much than that we need to be as intense as possible to ensure that we can place ourselves above the rest of the Caribbean teams," she said.

Hernandez, a self-confessed foodie who has an unbridled passion for Jamaican cuisine, talks about the highs and the lows of her football.

"The strength of my game has to be my soccer IQ, I feel like I have an understanding of the game like tactically...I used to play centre back so then I could see the field, so I think I learnt a lot in that position as well.

"I have applied that to centre midfield and that's a position that you have to know what you are doing before you get the ball, and there you have to be 10 steps ahead of everyone else while running up and down," she noted.

By her estimation, the weakest part of her game is "a lack of experience in the international field".

"This is my first tournament ever and I have to get used to playing against other girls from around the world," Hernandez ended, bringing the curtains down with her picture-perfect smile.

-- Sean Williams

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