By BRONTE HERMESMEYER / North Texas Daily / September 13
DENTON — Senior Aaliyah Nolan arrived here during the summer of 2017 and became the first international player in the history of the North Texas soccer program.
Nolan’s road to North Texas threw lots of obstacles at her, but it was her determination, grit and passion for the game that made her one of the top players for the Mean Green.
Nolan was born and raised on the small island of Bermuda. She lived in two parishes: Warwick and St. George’s. She said it was a very friendly atmosphere and “everybody knew everybody” on the island, which measures only 20 square miles.
Nolan loved the game of soccer and the work that is required to be a great player. She said there are only a couple things that come before soccer and family is definitely toward the top of her list.
“I don’t ever want to be too far away from my family,” Nolan said. “I love it when they come [and] watch my games because I love seeing them. This is not just for me, but for my family as well.”
Nolan didn’t start playing soccer until she was 12 years old. She was a multi-sport athlete and also participated in track and field when she was younger.
Only a few years after she started playing soccer, it was evident Nolan had a special talent. She soon joined the Bermuda National Team in 2013, which allowed her to play against stiff competition overseas. She participated in the U-17 and U-20 Caribbean Football World Cup Qualifiers.
“Playing with the national team has helped me see different styles of play from other teams overseas,” Nolan said. “It also helped me get into college because I actually ending up playing in an international game against one of my future coach’s team.”
That coach was Alicia Wilson, the current head coach at Navarro College in Corsicana, Tx. She was the one who gave Nolan a chance to showcase her skills here in the United States.
Two years later, Nolan began to impress yet another coach on the pitch. She was still playing for Navarro College in a spring game when the Bulldogs happened to be playing UNT. Head soccer coach John Hedlund said Nolan caught his eye from the very beginning of the game.
“We got a chance to play Navarro in the spring,: Hedlund said. “That’s when I saw this kid playing up front. She had a goal and an assist against us in that game and she really stood out.”
After that spring game, Hedlund said he wanted her to come to UNT and play for him on scholarship.
“Technically, she’s so good,” Hedlund said. :She’s so good on the ball, and she has a wonderful left foot.”
Nolan played in 21 out of 22 matches last season for North Texas. She started the year coming off the bench for the Mean Green, but she was promoted to a starter during the last 12 games of the season. Nolan scored seven goals, which was ranked second on the North Texas team.
This year, she scored three goals in the first six games, tied for the team lead. She’s been a vital part of the North Texas offense, which outscored opponents by a score of 13-3 in those first six contests.
“She’s one of my highest IQ soccer players out there,” Hedlund said. “She has a huge passion for soccer, and I really just fell in love with the kid.”
Nolan rejected other Division I offers to be a part of the culture at UNT. She said North Texas looked like a championship program, and she did not want to miss out on the opportunity.
“This was my first choice before I was even offered,” Nolan said. “When I researching stats, I realized this program was very good. I knew Coach Hedlund must be a good coach because he has won [a lot] of games and [a lot] of championships. In the end, I wanted to win a championship, too.”
Nolan said the culture of the North Texas soccer team doesn’t just express the importance of winning — it also makes sure everybody is welcomed with open arms and that everybody, old or new, is treated with great respect.
“Our team here [at UNT] is extremely close,” Nolan said. “I could go to any of my teammates or coaches and talk to them about anything personal or just have a conversation. This is my second home.”
Teammate Elle-Marie DeFrain described Nolan as a wonderful scorer and a great soccer player on the field. She also mentioned that off the field, Nolan is a joy to be around.
“She’s so fun for the team,” DeFrain said. “When she was first on the team, she was so quiet. Then after a few weeks, we all started to become really close with her. I’m so happy she’s a part of this team and we just love her.”
Nolan said after she finishes school, she wants to try and get drafted by a professional soccer team. If that doesn’t happen, she wants to try out for a team overseas in Germany or Italy.
“I still have that passion for the game,” Nolan said. “Soccer makes me happy, so I want to play it as long as I can.”
After her playing career is over, Nolan said she aspires to coach soccer and help kids the way other coaches have helped her.
“I would love to coach my own club team when I am older,” Nolan said. “I’ve had a lot of coaches that have all been good to me and all helped me through a rough time, and I want to give back to other people.”