Washington Spirit’s Hal Hershfelt discusses rookie season, US women’s national team selection

Hal Hershfelt is only in her first season coming out of Clemson University but has already cemented herself as a midfield stalwart for the Washington Spirit.

Washington Spirit midfielder Hal Hershfelt in action during the first half of an NWSL soccer match against the Utah Royals FC, Sunday, March 31, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)(AP/Terrance Williams)

After a shocking trade early during the NWSL draft in January, Washington selected the Hattiesburg, Mississippi, native with the No. 5 overall pick. Since then, Hershfelt’s name has been a constant part of the Spirit’s lineups, starting in nine of its 10 matches.

Her midfield partnership with veteran Andi Sullivan and fellow rookie Croix Bethune have been key in Washington’s possession-heavy offense, with Hershfelt providing more of a defensive edge and recovering loose balls to restart its attack. Yet, despite her role, Hershfelt has also proven to be a scoring threat, scoring twice so far this year.

Her play has helped Washington move up to third place in the league standings with more than a third of the season completed. The Spirit will have an opportunity to advance further this Friday if they win at home against the Seattle Reign.

Hershfelt spoke to WTOP about her recent call-up to the U.S. women’s national team and the Spirit’s strong start to the NWSL season.

Washington Spirit midfielder Hal Hershfelt talks to WTOP about her rookie season in the NWSL

The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity.

José Umaña: Let’s start with breaking news as you were called for the first time to the U.S. women’s senior national team for its two upcoming friendly matches against South Korea next week. How does it feel to get called up, and when did you first learn that you were selected?

Hal Hershfelt: It feels insane. I’m so grateful. I’ve never gotten in a youth call-up or anything. So it was definitely cool to be able to break in with the senior group, for sure. I’m just really thankful and I’m really excited to play around those players that are on that list. They’re all phenomenal, so I think it’d be really cool learning experience. I figured out not too long before the announcement —  probably a week before the announcement we knew. But yeah, having it announced was also kind of nice too.

Umaña: How did you find out … Who told you that you were called up?

Hershfelt: [Head coach] Adrián [González]. I was roaming around the facility, doing my thing. And then he walked up to me and he was like, “look!” I was like, “That’s cool!”

Umaña: After you found out, who were the first couple of people you told?

Hershfelt: Few of my teammates were around. It was funny, they were in the meal room, so they were kinda overhearing it. So I walked in there, and they were just like, “Oh, my god! Congrats!” After I ate, I immediately went my car, and I called my mom and my grandma. They were so excited. My mom was actually in the middle of work, and she starts screaming. I was like, “Girl chill,” but she was so excited.

Umaña: When did you finally realize you would be joining, not just some of your senior Spirit teammates, but other rookies as part of this trip to the U.S. national team?

Hershfelt: Shortly after, we were all texting each other. It’s really excited to have some familiar faces there. Obviously, for on the field, some familiarity, but also off the field, having people that you’re comfortable with, I feel it’s really important while you’re at the camp. There’s so much uncertainty, and you don’t really know a lot of people. So [I’m] very thankful for that.

Umaña: What do you hope to get out of this camp? Obviously, it’s going there, get to play with the senior team and get hopefully a chance to get on the field for the U.S. But what do you hope to get out of it? What’s something that you hope to accomplish during this trip?

Hershfelt: I just want to learn as much as I possibly can being in this type of setting, especially as a younger player, I mean, I’m 22. This is my first camp, being kind of thrown in with players that I’ve been watching for so long. I think you can pick up so many things, even little things that they do, what makes them compete at the highest level. I feel that’s definitely something I want to take away.

Umaña: Back home with the Spirit, you guys have been able to jump out real fast with good results. A lot of it has to do with how the young rookies have been playing. How have you and the other rookies been able to jump out so quickly with results so fast after getting drafted?

Hershfelt: I think, honestly, its a few things. One, all of our older teammates and our coaches have made us feel so welcomed and so empowered to be able to take on those big roles this season. And then, I feel it’s just easier when you have so many new people coming in that are going through the same exact thing. We can all kind of relate to each other and work together, which I think also helps. Like a little community. I’m super grateful for that. Just having so many people that come in hungry and ready to work. It’s been a great environment to start out at.

Washington Spirit midfielder Hal Hershfelt (17) in action during an NWSL soccer match, Sunday, March 17, 2024, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Alika Jenner)

Umaña: How’s the community between you and all the all the rookies? How have you guys coalesced and come together amongst yourselves?

Hershfelt: Honestly, coming here, we were all that each other knew for a little bit. And then preseason, a lot of us ended up staying together in our little preseason camp. So obviously, that helps us be a little more tight knit. And then we’ve also had long trips, like we had that 12-day road trip where we were in three different cities. I feel settings like that kind of force you to come together and be closer than you typically would if you were in your own routine at home. Because that’s all you see is your teammates when you’re on super long away trips, so I feel that’s been helpful.

Umaña: You’ve been together playing in the midfield with Andi Sullivan in the midfield this season. How has that partnership been and why do you think you both have been able to gel so quickly?

Hershfelt: She is been awesome for me to play with just because she’s such a successful, experienced player and I feel I can learn a lot from her on the field and also off the field. How she kind of takes care of herself. Even how she takes stuff like movement prep seriously. I see her do it every single day before practice. She’s just so easy to work with.

The experience that she brings has been super helpful for me as a younger player coming in. She’s very intelligent in the way she plays. She’s been in the league for a while now, and she’s been a super successful player. That’s someone that I kind of look up to. I feel the reason why we work so well together is because we’re both kind of open-minded in that aspect. If there’s an issue on the field, we both come together, and we’re like, “Okay, what do you see?” So I feel that helps a lot when it comes to problem-solving and collaborating on the field. It’s been really great for me to be next to her this first year. It’s awesome.

Umaña: Who else you been able to learn from the most?

Hershfelt: For me, when I think of leaders, some of the veteran players that I really look up to are Aubrey [Kingsbury], [Ashley Hatch] Hatchie and Andi. And I already mentioned, Andi, that’s obviously plays right next to me. When it comes to leadership and stuff like that, I definitely say Aubrey and Hatchie. They’re both very different in the ways that they do it. But the ways that they do it are both so important. I’ve really valued having as veterans, more experienced players on our team to kind of lead us because we are a younger team, in some aspects. We have a lot of young players, so their leadership has been great.

Umaña: Everyone sees what you’re doing, but they’re also seeing your teammate Croix Bethune and how you she stepped up as a rookie. How have you seen that partnership between you two in the midfield? How do you feel you both have handle all the attention and applause you both have been getting?

Hershfelt: It’s been so cool being able to come to the same team with her. A lot of people notice that we played at Concord together back in high school for my last couple years of high school. It’s just been so cool to kind of have that full circle moment and up on the same pro teams together. She’s such a crafty player, which I admire so much. She’s just so creative in her role. I feel we work well off together together, because we kinda balance each other out in some ways. She’s super creative, super shifty. She’s always thinking so attacking minded, and I feel I’m more of the defensive minded in that little trio. It’s been cool just being able to kind of balance each other out in some way: me, Andi and Croix.

Washington Spirit midfielder Andi Sullivan (12) celebrates her penalty kick goal with midfielder Hal Hershfelt, center, during the first half of an NWSL soccer match against the Utah Royals FC, Sunday, March 31, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

Umaña: I mean, give yourself some credit, you score two goals so far this season. What are your thoughts on scoring your first goal as a pro and how’s it feel to be a part of the offense as well?

Hershfelt: It’s been fun. At Clemson, I definitely played a deeper role, so I rarely was ever up near the net. So being able to come in and score that early in the season. I was like, “Oh, this is kind of fun. I have a little more freedom.” [My first goal] That was a really cool experience, especially at the home opener, that was crazy. I’ve been having a lot of fun. Having a little more freedom, and hope to score a couple more. That would be nice.

Umaña: Fans will hopefully see you score more. For those fans who are new, what should they expect in terms of the style of play the guys have been playing and how Adrian has really tried to implement that style?

Hershfelt: We like to keep the ball, and I think that we’re such a dynamic group. You kind of see a lot of interchanging and stuff like that with all of us, now that we have the chemistry going on the field. I feel personally, I might be biased, but we’re really fun group to watch because of that.

Umaña: So if you win this weekend, Washington will equal the same amount of victories so far this season that it has had in the last two years. How you feel about the team reaching these types of milestones so early and are you worried that this team could peak soon?

Hershfelt: I mean, first of all, that’s amazing. I didn’t know that. That’s so sick. Second of all, I think our group is so hungry and determined that, yes, that’s a nice stat to have. But I feel we also recognize that we’re only a little less than halfway through the season. I really think that consistency matters in that aspect, and we kind of have to carry it through the entire season for it to mean something.

Umaña: How’s it been with Adrián as the interim head coach? You guys are gonna slowly transitioning for when Jonatan Giráldez arrives so how is everyone feeling about the current coaching staff? And how do you feel you guys are going to be prepared for when Jona arrives?

Hershfelt: We love Adrian. I feel like he’s been so good for the group. He’s not only a great coach, but a great person. I feel like our group is really accepting of that. We’re also accepting of the new staff coming in. Everyone’s excited, and we’re feeling very optimistic. If the track record keeps gone about the experience we’ve had with the staff so far, I feel  it’s only going to be good. The staff has been great here so far, that I’ve seen. I’m excited.

Umaña: Lastly, for fans coming in to see this Friday’s game against Seattle, how do you feel you guys match up against the Reign? After losing to them in your season opener, how much did you guys learn from that first game?

Hershfelt: I think our team is extra excited to be seeing this team this week. That first game was a game that we were kind of still learning ourselves, our playing style, how we all mesh together. There was a lot of question marks. I feel we’re kind of more into our own identity now. I’m kinda excited to see how we work with that with this next game.

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José Umaña

José Umaña is a digital editor for WTOP. He’s been working as a journalist for almost a decade, covering local news, education and sports. His work has appeared in The Prince George’s Sentinel, The Montgomery Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, PressBox and The Diamondback.

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