Although the University of Richmond's field hockey season has come to an end, seniors Anna Zarkoski and Chelsea Davies will play in an annual all-star game against the USA field hockey team.
The game will be at the former National Training Center in Virginia Beach, Va., Saturday, Nov. 23, during championship week of the National Collegiate Athletic Associatio tournament.
Midfielder Davies said she had been ecstatic when she found out she had been selected.
"To play one more game with Anna, who is one of the best keepers I've ever played for or against, in a Richmond jersey will be an honor," Davies said. "Anna has such a presence to the cage, and to our team. She's an incredible person, a great leader. I admire her so much."
This season, Zarkoski has become one of the best goalies in the nation statistically, with a 0.85 save percentage, according to the NCAA rankings. During the past two summers, she competed with the USA Junior National Team and the Olympic development squad.
Head coach Gina Lucido said one of the many words she would use to describe Zarkoski would be "bravery."
"Anna is so blessed with God-given talent that she could have played anywhere in the country," Lucido said. "What we've asked her to do in our program has expanded her game tremendously. To be asked time and again to be put out of your comfort zone, and to sacrifice for the good of the team, she's a great leader and a phenomenal woman."
Goalie coach Kristen O'Rourke said Zarkoski had the trifecta. "Physically, she is so gifted," O'Rourke said. "She's fast, she covers the cage very well, she sees the game well and when something doesn't go her way, she wants to work out and figure out why."
Right after O'Rourke started to work with Zarkoski at the beginning of her freshman year, she sat Zarkoski and another goalie down before the first away game and told them they needed to be perfect.
"Most kids would crumble or think it's not possible to be perfect," O'Rourke said. "Anna's mental strength and commitment to excellence is evident in the stats that she's put up, and it has made her a phenomenal goalie."
"I came into Richmond with a vision of a hybrid goalie. A goalie with the size, strength, speed and the agility, that could make her a real threat. Anna has kind of epitomized the role of a hybrid goalie."
Zarkoski credits the amazing defensive unit for a large part of the team and her individual success. "The best thing about being apart of the Spider hockey team is the family and the closeness of the everyone on the team," Zarkoski said.
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"I know that I have not only 24 girls who stand behind me, but also all that have come before me. Together we are a united, fearless group of girls who truly want the best for each other and also have a ton of fun together on an everyday basis," she said.
Zarkoski and Davies have played together for four years at Richmond, and now Davies will be joining Zarkoski to play the USA team. Richmond will be one of the few schools represented by multiple players in the game. Zarkoski said having two players on the team would be an honor and demonstrate how unique the Spider hockey culture of family is.
Davies also recognized the significant honor in having two players selected for this game. "It's definitely a testament to our program and our coaching staff," Davies said. "The culture that Coach Lucido has developed is really uncommon and has proved to be successful."
"It's been an honor to play with a strong and intuitive player like Chelsea for four years," Zarkoski said. "Chelsea gives our team courage and confidence. She is always by my side on defense and plays with poise and a calmness that still amazes me. She brings flair and fun to the field day in and day out. Chelsea has played a huge part in my personal and our team success, and she is always consistent," she said.
Lucido, who described Davies almost exactly as Zarkoski did, said there were always players who stepped onto the field and attracted attention with chest bumps and fist pumps, but when Davies stepped onto the field, she flat-out dominated with quiet strength.
"Chelsea is so steadfast," she said. "That has been the epitome of Chelsea's career. There's not been one moment when I thought that she wasn't going to show up or rise to the situation. Her character is just unfailing and then blessed with her athleticism and talent. She's a force to be reckoned with."
The coaches agreed that Davies and Zarkoski had made a lasting impact on the program. For future goalies, O'Rourke said, Zarkoski had raised the bar.
"By taking on that pursuit to excellence and then and actually excelling, she's shown not just that it's possible, but that it is the standard. She's helped to write the script for this brand of goalkeepers," she said.
Lucido said she had always wanted to coach an incredible program-a daunting task that requires the right kind of recruits: women with superior skill and talent. In Lucido's time at Richmond, Davies and Zarkoski have been those types of players.
"It was neat to have a class where we were able to secure multiple blue chip players," Lucido said. "But most importantly, women of impeccable character. In order to be an incredible program, you have to have great leaders, and I knew that they were going to mature into something incredible as a leadership group. They are game-changing presences that that have made a lasting impact in our program."
The publicity and attention Davies and and Zarkoski have brought to Richmond will be vital to building a top field hockey program, Lucido said. "The top younger recruits are always looking to be a part of something where people are pushing on," Lucido said. "Whether it's playing for a national championship or playing overseas representing their countries. Winning teams recruit winning players."
O'Rourke said Lucido had crafted the Richmond field hockey program to be based on a culture that allowed for the women to succeed as a team and as individuals.
"We talk about humility constantly. Everyone in the program knows it's not about individuals. Players might sacrifice a little bit of themselves for the team, but in the process, they will gain something significantly greater than they could ever achieve by themselves," O'Rourke said.
Lucido said Davies and Zarkoski had been exemplary in displaying humility. "Players might die to themselves a bit if going to become part of us. But by doing that, you're going to be able to experience something so much greater than you could ever imagine, than perhaps you and being about yourself could accomplish."
Since this all-star game against the USA could be the last opportunity for Davies and Zarkoski to play together, the women are embracing it. "I think both of us are simply looking to have fun, enjoy it, play with passion and show our love for the game and Richmond," Zarkoski said.
Contact reporter Lauren Shute at firstname.lastname@example.org
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