END OF THE BENCH KATIE CARR, VIRGINIA

Contributing, but barely playing: Katie Carr, a two-sport star in high school, adjusts to mostly watching soccer with Cavaliers

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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 31, 2009

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- An all-state honoree who set her high school's records for goals and assists doesn't expect to be warming the bench midway through her third collegiate soccer season. A three-time state player of the year in basketball possesses plenty of options other than performing a role unnoticed by nearly everyone.

Katie Carr, a redshirt sophomore for the Virginia women's soccer team, is all of the above. She does not start and barely plays for a Cavaliers team that has earned 15 consecutive NCAA tournament berths. Once the heartbeat of any team on which she played, Carr carries out a far diminished responsibility. Her value is tied to her performance in practice, where official stats aren't kept and victories are mostly of the moral variety.

Virtually every roster of every college sports team includes athletes such as Carr: players who were stars in high school, active for nearly every consequential minute of every game, but who now spend more time watching rather than competing during matches.

"It's hard because when you win a game, you're ecstatic, you're happy, you're happy for the team, you're happy that we're doing well," Carr said. "But then at the same time you're like, 'Well, how much did I really contribute to that?' "

For Carr and the constituency she represents, athletic validation comes in subtler forms, such as a dime-size scab crinkled on the bridge of her nose, lingering evidence of a slide tackle she executed in practice the day before. Carr hasn't played in seven straight games, and she's been on the field for 16.8 percent of the total minutes Virginia has played this season.

Carr's primary task involves devoting countless hours and immeasurable amounts of energy and focus during practices to ensure that her teammates -- some of whom stand between her and the prominence she used to own -- have the best chance to succeed come game time. Her function on the Cavaliers, though far different than she ever imagined it would be, remains vital, her coach says. But for a long time, Carr struggled to come to that realization.

"The beauty of playing a team sport to me is you're really sacrificing your service to the team," Virginia women's soccer Coach Steve Swanson said. "It's not an easy thing to do. These guys are giving a lot of time and a lot of sweat and a lot of tears, and they're sacrificing it for the team. The biggest thing you have to balance in a team sport is you have to decide at some point, 'Why am I doing this?' "

Below the dunes

For six days during every preseason camp, Swanson takes his squad to Maple City, Mich., where the Cavaliers train and scrimmage against Notre Dame. In August 2007, Carr and the rest of the incoming freshman class learned the most daunting task of the trip was climbing nearby sand dunes, some of which rise as high as 450 feet.

When it came time for that exercise, though, Carr stood aside. She had torn her left anterior cruciate ligament and some of meniscus during the first soccer game of her senior season at the Walsingham Academy in Williamsburg and had to sit out her first college year for rehabilitation. No practices. No games. No bonding with teammates over the shared accomplishment of conquering a sand dune.

"They all could celebrate that because they did it together, and I kind of was just there cheering, you know?" Carr said. "It was hard from that aspect, just that I wasn't going through the same things they were going through."

She paused as the memory replayed in her mind. "Honestly, I think that's what made me fall in love with Virginia even more was the fact that the coaches were always there for me," she continued. "Never was it like I was overlooked. I would be running sprints around the field while they were practicing because I couldn't play with a ball yet, and every time I came around someone would be like, 'Yeah, here we go. Let's go, Katie.' That was one thing that really helped me out that made it, not okay, but better than it could have been."

The frustration -- and the questions that fueled it -- did not intensify until the following spring, when Carr was back on the field trying to recapture the mobility and speed that once made her an elite two-sport talent. During a high school career in which Carr tallied the second-most points in the history of Virginia girls' basketball, she was courted initially by such storied women's college programs as Tennessee and Connecticut. But Carr had decided by her sophomore year of high school that soccer would be the sport she would pursue.


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