The No. 2 North Carolina women’s lacrosse team was in the midst of battling No. 10 Louisville in April. Hendrick sliced, slashed and shimmied her way through multiple Cardinal defenders.
She amassed a career-high five goals in a span that only lasted 16 minutes and 30 seconds. But the gleeful celebrations soon turned into grave concerns.
During a draw control in the second half, Hendrick secured the ball – continuing the intensity she exhibited all game. She was fouled, and then jumped into the air.
As Hendrick landed, her left leg turned awkwardly.
In an instant, Hendrick’s fast-paced playing style was immobilized. Her demeanor twisted from aggression into powerful, intense pain.
‘First in, last out’
Growing up in Lancaster, Pa., Hendrick craved competition.
Molly’s mother, Mary Hendrick, said her daughter’s competitive spirit wasn’t passed through the gene pool.
It developed through a rivalry between Hendrick and her little brother Will, who plays lacrosse at Mount Saint Mary’s.
“There wasn’t anything (Will) was going to do that (Molly) wasn’t,” Mary said. “When he wanted to play ice hockey, she did too. When he signed up for football, she did too.”
Bridget Hendrick, Molly’s older sister, recounted a game that fully demonstrated Hendrick’s fiery nature.
Hendrick’s team, Manheim Township High School, was playing Boyertown Area High School in the first round of the 2013 state playoffs in Pennsylvania.
The score stood at 12-12 with 28 seconds left. Hendrick then suffered a cramp and had to leave the game.
Unfazed by the injury, Hendrick immediately checked back in. She worked her way around the goalpost and scored the game-winning goal with 4.5 seconds on the clock.
It was Hendrick’s seventh goal of the night.
“It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” Bridget said. “She just plays with that much intensity, and she’ll get the job done. She’s the person with the ‘first in, last out’ mentality.”
Nearly two years later, Hendrick entered the Louisville game with the same, fierce mentality. But this time around, she faced more than just a muscle cramp.
‘You gotta let me have it’
Leading into the game against Louisville, Hendrick had become UNC’s biggest offensive threat.
She led or tied for the most goals in seven of the first 12 games. The increased production came after Coach Jenny Levy moved Hendrick from midfielder to attacker.
“We felt like (Molly) could become one of our best scorers,” Levy said. “She buys in, she plays with the team and she is willing to take physical risks on the field.”
In the second half, Hendrick’s fifth and final goal triggered a 9-0 run for the Tar Heels, who eventually won 18-5.
During that run, Hendrick suffered her injury on the draw control. After her leg was caught in the turf, she went to the ground clutching her left knee.
“I don’t know why I grabbed (my knee), maybe like a protective sort of thing,” Hendrick explained. “And the trainer was like, ‘You gotta let me have it.’ And I was like, ‘No.’ She had to pull my knee from out of my hands.”
A couple days later, it was announced that she had suffered an ACL tear.
At the time of her injury, she led the team with 30 goals, 35 points, 37 draw controls, five free position goals and 64 shot attempts.
Hendrick’s best game as a Tar Heel turned into one of her most painful moments as a player.
“It was really hard for me to go through that just because I thought we had a really good team,” Hendrick said. “But I had to move on and start the journey of recovery.”
During the rehab, Hendrick worked closely with strength and conditioning coach Erik Hernandez.
Hernandez said a typical day of rehab included movement and flexibility drills, acceleration development work and a strength workout. Some days, Hendrick would come back and do a second workout with more agility training in the sand, the field or the pool.
“I just kept thinking about what I wanted to get back to and what I wanted to do the next season,” she said.
While sidelined, Hendrick still made her presence known.
The injury might have taken her ability to run, but it did little to stop her roaring cheers and relentless clapping. Anything to encourage her teammates.
Senior attacker Sammy Jo Tracy — who missed the 2014 season with a foot injury — knows how difficult it can be to cheer from the sideline.
Tracy said she was proud of Hendrick for being positive despite her injury.
“(Molly) was an inspiration,” Tracy said. “She made sure to pump everyone up. That can be really hard to do, especially when you want to be in the game.”
‘Confident in my knees’
Hernandez said Hendrick resumed lacrosse activities about eight months after her surgery, but she still practiced her shooting during that time. After nine and a half months, she was doing full practices throughout the week. Upon her return, Hendrick was named a team captain by her teammates.
“When you’re hit with something that you don’t anticipate, how you handle that and how you continue to be selfless is a really good mark of a leader,” Levy said.
In the season opener against James Madison, Hendrick reminded her teammates she can lead from the field as well as the sidelines. The junior torched the Dukes’ defense by scoring four goals on just five shot attempts.
Hendrick has no regrets about her injury. She learned more about herself, her teammates and the game of lacrosse.
This Saturday, the Tar Heels face Maryland — which the team lost to in the 2015 national championship. But this time, the team will have a weapon it didn’t have in Hendrick.
The junior attacker won’t forget the two other characteristics that brought her here — unwavering passion and ferocious intensity.
“I want to make an impact as much as I can,” Hendrick said. “I want to be a leader for everyone.”