Athlete of the Week: Hensley Hancuff, Women's Soccer

Hensley Hancuff, a 6’3” goalkeeper for the women’s soccer team, earned a spot on the All-Big East freshman team after recording 52 saves—while only allowing 13 goals—in her first season as a Wildcat. Now a sophomore, Hancuff intends to help lead the team to a winning season and improve individually as well. However, the Oklahoma native’s path to this point is anything but ordinary.

At seven years old, Hancuff played soccer for the first time. In her first game, the starting goalie got injured and had to be replaced. Hancuff, the tallest player on the bench, was called to be the replacement.

“I got on late, so I wasn’t supposed to play. … Their goalkeeper had braces and got hit in the mouth with the ball, so she had to come out,” Hancuff said. “I guess that game they said I was super brave and everything, and I threw my body in front of the ball like they’ve never seen before. Ever since then, I’ve just been a goalkeeper.”

Hancuff first realized she wanted to pursue soccer as a career in eighth grade. She trained with a goalie coach who sharpened her skills and truly made her believe that she could play soccer professionally. She continued to train and improve throughout high school until a bump in the road suddenly appeared. When Hancuff was a junior in high school, she began to feel pain in her hips, which she thought was just growing pains. In January 2017, Hancuff was told there was a chance she could develop ovarian cancer in her 30s, and that she should seek treatment sooner rather than later.

Following the surgery in November of 2017 to remove her ovaries, Hancuff and her family were shocked to learn that she had already had cancer for a year and a half. 

“I was super scared. At this time in my life, I was so busy with soccer,” Hancuff said. “This was when I was buckling down on getting better. This was when I was really trying to spend all my time into soccer. So, I just didn’t even think about it. I never had the chance to think about it.”

During the period between her diagnosis and surgery, soccer served as a distraction for Hancuff. She didn’t want to return to high school because she wasn’t able to receive proper soccer training in Oklahoma. After considering places to train, Hancuff was given the opportunity to play with the Orlando Pride in Florida. She moved to Florida and lived with a family, as she enrolled in an online school to receive credits to finish high school.

While training with the Pride, she was able to play with top players and coaches in the world, including Alex Morgan, who helped lead the U.S. Women’s team to a World Cup victory last summer.

“I grew up watching these players on TV, and now I was getting shot on by them every day,” Hancuff said. ”It was a dream come true.”

Hancuff mentioned how having Morgan—along with other players—shoot on her increased her skills substantially.

“They kicked my butt, but it was so worth it,” Hancuff said.

Spending time training in Florida not only helped her improve as a player; “I don’t know if I would have been able to get through it [the cancer] without them,” Hancuff said.

At just 17 years old, Hancuff came to Villanova to begin spring soccer. She played her freshman season and she started 12 games for the team, recording an .800 save percentage and allowing 1.13 goals per game. Hancuff also notched a career high eight saves on two separate occasions during the year, according to Villanova.com.

Hancuff enjoyed watching the U.S. Women’s National Team win the World Cup in dominant fashion this summer.

“It was so inspirational I can’t even explain it,” Hancuff said. “I watched every single game, every single minute. Chills going up my spine, like, ‘I could be doing this someday.’”

Hancuff looks forward to the rest of her sophomore season and has a goal of having a better record than last year, decreasing the amount of goals against by half, and continuing to have shutouts against teams. 

Regarding her future, she personally wants to continue to grow as a person. For her career, she has big plans.

“I want to go play pro,” Hancuff said. “I want to make the national team. I want to be on TV. This past year with what’s happened with cancer and everything, I finally decided [that] life’s too short to not take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of you.”