Left, Brigham Young University goalkeeper Lynette Hernaez interrupted her college soccer career to serve a mission in Utah. Right, Hernaez clears the ball during BYU’s Aug. 12 shutout match versus Idaho State. (Photos courtesy of Lynette Hernaez and BYU Photo)
Latter-day Saint convert/returned missionary Lynette Hernaez is eager to help BYU soccer realize Big 12 title dreams
Former Washington State Cougar now defending the goal in BYU Cougar Blue.
By Jason Swensen
26 Aug 2023
My introduction to Brigham Young University’s freshman goalkeeper Lynette Hernaez was a bit unusual.
As the father of a former Cougar soccer player and a sportswriter, my initial encounter with new BYU players typically occurs within some sort of soccer context: A game, a tournament, maybe a training session.
But when I met Hernaez last fall, I had no clue she was one of BYU soccer’s promising young keepers. No balls, boots or shin guards were in sight. In fact, I didn’t even know her name was Lynette. She was “Sister Hernaez” — a full-time missionary serving in the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission.
Sister Hernaez and her companion were serving at the time in my South Jordan, Utah, stake. My wife and I were teaching a Sunday School class of 14- and 15-year-olds. When we arrived at the classroom we were surprised to see a couple of smiling missionaries sitting alongside the kids.
We invited the companionship to introduce themselves and share a missionary experience or two. Sister Hernaez’s story was uplifting. She was a Church convert who had been baptized not long before accepting her own mission call. Being on the learning end of the missionary discussions was still a fresh memory.
She also said she was — surprise— a future BYU soccer player.
Holding a teenager’s attention can be tough — but everyone in class that day sat up a bit straighter while listening to Sister Hernaez's testimony.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I reconnected with the young Southern Californian during BYU’s annual Blue-White game prior to the 2023 season. Hernaez was no longer in Sunday dress and wearing a missionary’s name tag. Instead, she was donning bulky goalkeeper gloves and a Nike blue jersey with “Brigham Young” emblazoned across the front.
But the joy I had witnessed in “Sister Hernaez” almost a year earlier remained. She was again doing something she loved.
Hernaez spoke with Church Ball Magazine as the 11th-ranked Cougars were in the opening days of their maiden season in the Big 12. Despite being the “new kids” in the storied conference, BYU has been picked to win the conference title.
A transfer from Washington State, Hernaez enrolled in BYU last January, just weeks after finishing her mission. That head start allowed her to bond with Cougar teammates during BYU’s 2023 spring season and during the team’s subsequent European tour.
Still, making a quick transition from full-time missionary service to facing down D1 attackers has been challenging.
“There have been highs and lows,” she said. “I take the little wins every single day. I was blessed during my mission to have a positive mindset and always rely upon my Savior.”
Brigham Young University soccer player Lynette Hernaez (00) waves to the crowd prior to the team’s Aug. 5, 2023, annual Blue/White scrimmage game. (Photo courtesy of BYU Photo).
Goalkeeping demands a precise blend of technique, positioning, timing, savvy and courage. Returned missionary Hernaez remembers having to relearn everything from catching the ball correctly to knowing when to go to ground or when to stay upright.
“I had to take it one day at a time. I just kept telling myself that the Lord was with me. He is at my side and I can get through anything with Him. I truly feel that I have become closer to Christ even as I’ve become a better soccer player.”
Conversion: An unexpected, spiritual discovery
Hernaez grew-up in Southern California — a hotbed of soccer culture and talent. She played in the local rec leagues as a little girl before moving on to the hyper-competitive club scene.
She minded the net for the storied So Cal Blues squad, winning national club titles.
The 5-foot-11 keeper also collected a trophy room’s worth of honors at Corona’s Santiago High School.
By the time she was in middle school, it was clear Hernaez was D1 college bound.
But even though her soccer future appeared certain, Hernaez’s personal and spiritual life would change abruptly during her junior year of high school after one of her close friends on the Santiago HS squad told Hernaez that she did not play soccer on Sundays.
Hernaez asked why.
“My friend told me that she was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Hernaez recalled. “I thought that was cool — I had never heard of the Church before.”
Later that year, Hernaez’s Latter-day Saint soccer friend invited her to lunch with several other Church members. She was impressed by their devotion.
“I had always believed in Jesus Christ, but just never acted upon it,” she said.
Hernaez’s friends invited her to meet with the missionaries, but it was too much too soon. She was not ready.
“But after a year of going to Church activities and seeing how awesome the people were, I was finally ready to be taught. I asked my friends to introduce me to the missionaries.”
She remembers feeling the Spirit during the first missionary lesson about Jesus Christ. Soon she was reading the Book of Mormon. “It took me eight months to realize that the Book of Mormon was true. I felt so good and so happy.”
Hernaez also discovered that when she prayed and read the Book of Mormon consistently, aspects of her life such as school, soccer and her family relationships seemed to simultaneously improve.
She wanted to be baptized. Her parents, Chad and Annie Hernaez, were supportive and appreciated the positive life changes their daughter was making. But they asked her to wait until she turned 18 to join the Church.
“On my birthday — the day I turned 18 — I woke up and the first thing I did was call my bishop and schedule my baptism.”
Becoming a Latter-day Saint exacted a social cost. Hernaez remembers losing “a good amount” of friends who did not support her decision. “It was tough. I had to stand up and defend myself to people I loved.”
Becoming a Cougar — twice
While a high school sophomore, Hernaez committed to play for the Washington State Cougars.
She moved to Pullman, Washington, a few months after being baptized. “But right away, I started doing missionary work.”
Soon she was accompanying the full-time missionaries to teaching appointments. She was also teaching her roommates and teammates. She found that she loved sharing the gospel and her growing testimony with others.
“I knew I had a desire to serve a mission.”
After finalizing her decision to submit her mission papers, Hermaez felt “an achy feeling” that Washington State was not where she was supposed to be after serving her mission. Terrified, she approached her WSU coaches about her desire to transfer to BYU.
Hernaez remains thankful for the WSU coaches who, recognizing her religious devotion, contacted their Cougar counterparts at the Church-sponsored school regarding a possible transfer.
“My Washington State coaches were actually the ones who reached out to [BYU soccer coach] Jennifer Rockwood about me.”
Anxious to shore up her stable of goalkeepers, Rockwood agreed to the transfer.
Deciding to serve a mission demanded several leaps of faith. Athletically, Hernaez knew there were no guarantees in the volatile world of college soccer. But she found assurance in the words of her patriarchal blessing promising her that if she served, “the Lord would give me a part of His vineyard.”
As a missionary, Sister Lynette Hernaez found joy “being an instrument in the Lord’s hand.”
Teaching the gospel every day for 18 months in Utah “was like a crash course” in how to be a disciple of Christ.
“My mission opened my eyes to the bigger picture of how to view the world in the way that Christ does,” she said. “Because of that new perspective, I now view everything differently in my life. Each day I ask if my actions will bring me closer to Christ — or bring someone else closer to Christ.”
These are exciting times at BYU’s South Field. New conference rivals are anxious for a shot at the nationally-ranked Cougars. Hernaez is thrilled to be part of a historic moment at BYU. She has high hopes for herself and her team.
“We absolutely want to win a national championship,” she said. “I know this team is fully capable of doing that.
“Coming back from the mission, I knew that I would most likely not be at my peak right away, but I knew I was gonna do everything I could possibly do to help this team win the championship and get to where we need to be.”