Sarah Kovalchick threw out her dreams of playing college soccer when she decided to go to Maryland. She received Division II and III offers out of Middletown High School, but elected to forgo those options to attend her favorite school as a regular student.
“The University of Maryland was this big Division I school and you talked about it as if it was a dream,” Kovalchick said. “I never thought I’d actually be able to represent it.”
So she began her hiatus from soccer, though it wouldn’t last long. Kovalchick got involved with the athletic department in other ways, though she didn’t know it would eventually lead her back onto the field.
Kovalchick, a kinesiology major who plans to pursue a career in physical therapy, interned with the school’s sports medicine department last year and was a trainer for the men’s soccer team in the fall and the men’s lacrosse team in the winter and spring.
Kovalchick played intramural soccer once she got to college, but missed the team atmosphere of the sport from high school. She knew a trainer who said the team was low in numbers, and she sent Maryland coach Ray Leone a highlight video. She was surprised when he responded and invited her to practice with the team this summer.
Kovalchick’s talent was evident when Maryland assistant coach Manya Makoski first viewed that highlight tape. The video showed Kovalchick juggling the ball around an entire field.
“I said, ‘There’s something different about this girl.’ I can’t even do that,” said Makoski, who played on numerous U.S. youth national teams.
Shortly after, Leone invited the sophomore midfielder to come attend a practice. Three days later, she was on the team.
“She jumped in there and immediately started connecting passes,” Leone said. “I can’t imagine anyone being in that position doing what she did.”
All her hard work paid off on Sept. 11, when she made her Maryland debut late in the first half against George Mason.
“It was unbelievable,” Kovalchick said. “If you told me a year ago that I would be doing this, I never would’ve believed you.”
Although she has only played 55 minutes this season, both Leone and Makowski said she has been an extremely hard worker in practice and that her positivity sets her apart.
“When she walks in, she lifts the room,” Leone said.
For Kovalchick, the difference between being a trainer and being an athlete is simple. “When you’re a trainer, you set up the water,” she said. “When you’re an athlete, you get the water. It’s nice to see the other side of it.”
But even though she’s now an athlete here, she can’t escape her background as a trainer. She said she still finds herself diagnosing injuries on the field, and will make icebags for her teammates in their apartment.
Freshman defender Hannah Hoefs said it’s helpful to have what she called an “unofficial team doctor,” but said that’s still not Kovalchick’s best trait.
“She can find out anything,” Hoefs said. “If you need her to find out anything, she can find out in 10 minutes.”
It was a different kind of shock for the lacrosse players, who had no idea that she was athletic. She said that if one of them sees her in the locker room they ask her to get water, and she reminds them that isn’t her job anymore.
All these connections are why Leone says she is one of the team’s most popular players. But for Kovalchick, just being on the team has been the best part of the experience.
“It’s crazy to know you represent something so much bigger than yourself, that you have so many people cheering behind you.”