Stark takes soccer game to next level
Times Staff Writer
Several weeks ago, Sadie Stark ventured across the country. After saying goodbye to the Rocky Mountains, she crossed the Midwestern plains and scaled the Appalachian Mountains before descending upon Washington D.C.
The Colorado native and former Western State Colorado University soccer star had never lived outside the state, but the ultimate opportunity presented itself: Stark was headed to D.C. to join the Washington Spirit, a professional soccer team, as a member of its reserves squad.
When Stark rolled into the D.C. area, it was evident that the long and demanding trek reflected her journey to the professional ranks.
The move was a long time coming for Stark, who first hit the pitch at the tender age of 4.
“I started playing soccer as soon as I could,” Stark explained. “I played other sports like softball through the years, but I never liked it as much as soccer, so the other sports slowly faded into the background.”
Stark honed her skills on various club teams on Colorado’s Front Range. She always had a desire to play collegiate soccer, so she aligned herself with the best suitable path to get there. She attracted a variety of collegiate scouting eyes, including from several prominent Division I schools. But as she rose to the top of her game, disaster struck in the form of injury.
“I tore my ACL,” Stark mused. “That deterred the interest of the coaches.”
Yet, the setback became a blessing in disguise. Western launched their women’s soccer program in the fall of 2012, and while Stark feverishly worked herself back into shape, then-coach Jeremy Clevenger gave her a shot.
“He gave me a chance and brought me onto the team,” Stark explained. “I played for the first four years alongside some incredible women.”
At Western, Stark was exposed to a much higher level of competition. The Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) is one the toughest in Division II, and the experience was not lost to Stark.
“High school was fun and definitely competitive, but I never competed in the highest levels of high school soccer,” Stark said. “College was a whole different level. The competition is a lot bigger, faster and stronger.”
As part of the inaugural class of Mountaineer soccer players, Stark started alongside a team of freshmen who were up against seasoned RMAC teams.
“I remember my first game of college soccer,” Stark reminisced. “The opposing team picked off the very first pass I made, and they ended up scoring as I was standing there in shock of what just happened. After that game I think the 20-some freshmen on our team realized this was no high school ball anymore.”
While the team went 1-12 that year, the dive-into-the-deep-end approach eventually worked, as Stark and her teammates quickly learned to swim. Stark scored two goals in her first season and started 10 games, and that was only the beginning.
Stark became a leader on and off the field as a versatile forward. By her senior year the team went 7-7-4. By the time she capped her collegiate career she had tallied 10 total goals and 48 starts.
The four years on the Western squad also allowed for Stark to recover and rework her talents. While she starred on the squad of Mountaineers, her ambitions to extend her play into the professional realm remained.
“I have always had a dream and ambition to play soccer professionally,” Stark said. “Just like any other young soccer player with dreams, I was determined. The determination never faded away, and through the years I found ways to better myself, as well as get help from others on inspiration or direction.”
Headed to the big show
As her collegiate career wrapped up last year, she began searching for additional opportunities to keep her dreams alive within the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), which launched in 2011.
Stark continued to train alongside her former Mountaineer teammates in preparation for the grueling tryout. Stark tried out alongside a myriad of other talented players from across the country — in front of NWSL coaches from various teams.
“There were a lot of talented players,” Stark shared. “Though, it was hard to work alongside a bunch of individuals and show team skills as well as your own.”
Fortunately for Stark, she caught the eye of the Washington Spirit, which opened a spot for her on their reserves squad to further hone her skills with the intention of one day making the starting squad. With the opportunity came the hard decision to relocate to the East Coast.
“Moving to D.C. is the first time I have lived outside of Colorado my whole life,” Stark joked. “The D.C. area has a whole different flow than anywhere in Colorado.”
Despite the change, Stark has a deep understanding of the sacrifice, and sees the opportunity she has in front of her.
“This opportunity is such a blessing,” Stark explained. “If you want to achieve something bad enough, you are the one who can get yourself there, as long as you work hard and believe in yourself. I was told all my life I was not good enough, and I was even told I would never play college soccer.
“Hopefully, if I am ever a role model for someone, they will see that even those who were never expected to make it even close to their dreams can make them happen with a little determination and belief in themselves,” she added.
(Bobby Reyes can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)