The senior forward reflects on leadership styles, the benefits of setbacks and why Texas and Haiti both own a piece of her heart.
Michelle Prokof. (photo courtesy of TCU Athletics.)
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More in Sports: Riff Ram
Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
You grew up in the suburban Chicago town of Gurnee, which has a population of 31,000 or roughly three times TCU’s enrollment. How did you end up in Fort Worth?
I first visited the campus on a trip to Dallas for a soccer tournament during my junior year of high school. Absolutely nothing was open that Sunday, but I got a chance to walk around the campus and look at the soccer field. From that day on I would fall asleep every night picturing myself playing at TCU.
Was the chance to play soccer in the Big 12 part of that dream?
The people played an even bigger role. Coach [Eric Bell] had a vision for what he wanted his team to become. I was talking to a lot of college programs, but he had bigger goals and ambitions than anyone else, and I fully bought into that. He wanted to create an identity that was TCU soccer where the teams we competed against had to adapt to our style rather than us to theirs. So he set out to create a family atmosphere where the players ‑ myself included ‑ really wanted to be there not just for the game but also for each other.
You come from a close-knit family of six: your parents, Nancy and David, plus siblings Andrew, Lauren and Paige. The notion of family clearly resonates with you.
Family is everything, and not just the people related to you, though in my case I’m blessed with amazing people at home. I went to a charter school in Illinois with a total of 35 kids in my grade, but for high school I switched to a public school that had 1,300 students. In Illinois you can’t play club soccer and for your high school at the same time. Everyone stayed on my club soccer team because of the family atmosphere there. We’re still on a huge group text. When TCU played Kansas this fall, I was able to hang out with one of the girls on that team who I had played with as a kid.
You and your roommate go way back to those club soccer days.
Lauren [Sajewich] and I have played together for seven years. The two of us will wake up at 6:45 on a Saturday morning to watch soccer. We’re that crazy about it. When I was a junior in high school, I tore my ACL and had to sit out for eight months. The coolest thing about that was it allowed me to rebuild a love for the game.
You, Lauren and Courtney Forte are team captains. How have your differing leadership styles benefitted the team?
What Courtney can do as a captain is amazing. She’s one of the most outgoing people I know and has this ability to communicate and make people laugh, which has done so much for this program. She pulls us together in a really powerful way. Lauren rallies the troops. She’s very wise and really thinks about what she’s saying. For my part, I build up people, but I’m also very honest and forthcoming about what we need to do. I bring the clarity. Leadership looks different everywhere you go, but in order to be a good leader, you have to be a good follower first. If I want people to listen to what I’m saying, I start by putting a lot of time into listening to what they have to say. Determination and talent don’t matter if you aren’t coachable.
Work ethic seems a key ingredient in your personal recipe for success.
Whether it’s drills on the field or at my internship with Catholic Charities International, I work hard, but I also invest time in the lives of my teammates. I prioritize building relationships, which has impacted how we relate to each other as people as well as players on the field.
You started playing soccer at age 3. Does it all end in mid-November when your senior season wraps?
I’m not ready to be done with soccer yet. I like the idea of coaching and am working toward being a [graduate assistant] to a coach while getting my master’s degree in social work. If not coaching, then I’m thinking about going into the ministry. I’ve been on several mission trips, including to Haiti, which has my heart. Someday I’d like to adopt a child from there. But wherever the next step leads me, I can’t imagine not coming back to Texas someday. I’ve always felt so welcomed here. This place is now a big part of who I am.
— Lisa Martin
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