COLUMBIA — Heather Hinz has no doubts that she is going to play professional soccer someday.
The South Carolina goalkeeper understands that less than 50 of the nearly 10,000 Division I women’s soccer players are drafted into the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) each year, but that statistic has never slowed her down. Heather watched her older sister Megan live out that lifelong goal, and she knows she can, too.
“She had a dream, and she made it work because of how determined she is, so obviously I learned a lot of that from her,” Heather said. “But it was it was kind of difficult because there always is that pressure that she’s my sister. She was doing such big things and doing exactly what I want to do when I graduate … but it really helped me realize how pipe dreams can also come true, because if she was able to do it with the situation she was dealt with, I could do it as well.”
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Megan, who played at Michigan from 2014-2017, began her professional career in Sweden and returned to the U.S. to play for the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars in 2019. She then played for Gotham NY/NJ FC from 2019-2021 and now works as an assistant women’s soccer coach at Penn.
“She’s a naturally gifted athlete, and she works really hard to maintain her athleticism,” Megan said. “She spent summer before (her junior year) doing an internship with a goalkeeper institute that I work at, and she spent 16 hours a day either training herself or training other people and working on her fitness in between sessions. I think it’s really impressive because it’s just her own personal commitment to getting better at the craft.”
Heather, a third-year starter for South Carolina (7-2-3), is having the best season of her career. With six games left in the regular season, she already has matched last year’s shutouts with seven. She has an 87.2% save percentage and is allowing an average of .522 goals per game, half last year’s average of 1.045.
The senior is No. 2 in the SEC for saves and save percentage and No. 3 in saves per game and goals against average. Her shutouts rank No. 7 nationally, and her save percentage ranks No. 19.
Heather is the youngest of three sisters and never wanted to be a goalkeeper. She ended up in the net for the first time in middle school during an Olympic Development Program game in London. Her team’s keeper was injured, so she was thrown in as the backup and immediately fell in love with the position.
“I thought for sure I was going to be the next big-time striker, but clearly that’s never gonna happen,” Heather said, laughing. “The whole reason I didn’t want to be a goalkeeper at first is because of my sister. It always made me so angry because I was like … I want to be my own person. But honestly, if I would have played on the field, I definitely wouldn’t have made it this far. She was able to help develop me so much. She’s able to help guide me in so many different ways, so I think it was the right decision in the end.”
As a freshman at South Carolina, Heather played behind starting goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski, a two-time All-SEC selection who still holds three program records (career shutouts, career goals against average, and single-season goal against average). Heather said Krzeczowski has been one of the biggest influences on her game.
“I still talk to her to this day and ask her like, ‘Hey, what did you think about this?'” Heather said. “I think she had a huge role in obviously humbling me freshman year but also just helping develop me. She cares so much, and sometimes you could tell she was caring a lot and it seemed rough, but it helped me realize the passion that I need and how intense I need to be. She showed me different sides that I hadn’t seen from other keepers I’ve trained with.”
Entering her sophomore year, Heather sat down with the Gamecocks’ coaching staff and told them her professional aspirations — along with a laundry list of other goals for stats and personal accolades. She said the coaches encouraged her, but they also warned her that she needed to slow down mentally.
“I used to stress so much, like ‘I can’t make any mistakes because I need this award in order to get noticed so that I can get drafted,'” Heather said. “Now I really just think about keeping the ball out of the net and doing what the team needs from me, and I know when I slip up, I have my defenders there for me. That conversation really made me like realize how much I needed to mature. I definitely think I’m a completely different person from my freshman year.”
Megan isn’t surprised by Heather’s ambitions, nor does she have any doubts about her sister’s ability to reach the highest level.
“Heather’s proven that whatever situation she’s in, whether she’s brought in as a go-to or has to work her way to the top, she’s always found a way to make her impact known,” Megan said. “I wouldn’t discount her from anything, whether that’s playing overseas or in the NWSL or doing whatever it is she wants to do in or our of soccer.”