Keri Sarver’s Limitless Dedication to the Beautiful Game
The dedication Keri Sarver has for soccer does not go unnoticed by the countless players and personnel she works with on and off the pitch. The University of Maryland alumna now coaches at a top destination for promising youth players in the state of Ohio, which is also the former club she once played for.
SoccerToday presents an original editorial by Guillermo Hernandez.
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Youth Soccer News: Currently a Director of Coaching for Internationals Soccer Club and a Scout and assistant coach for the U.S. Youth National Teams, Keri Sarver is an example of a remarkable athlete who selflessly gives to the soccer world, even more than what it gave to her.
Born into what she calls a “soccer family,” Sarver started to develop a passion for the sport at an early age. By playing in every single level as a soccer player, she gained all the needed knowledge to figure out she was going to stay involved in soccer for the rest of her life.
Sarver shares her process and what she believes made her decide, in an undoubtedly fashion, she was going to become the person she is now.
“I basically fell in love with the sport right away, realizing at a young age that it was okay for a girl to compete against boys or against girls.”
Her parents had a lot to do with her toughness and determination as they encouraged her and her three older siblings to have fun competing in every kind of sport they decided to play, creating a family standings chart even, where they would keep score of their “in house” competitions.
“Growing up with three older brothers and competing against them definitely helped me to learn how to compete and to earn and fight for every victory. When I first started playing in a premier club (Internationals Soccer Club), Zdravko Popovic, who is our club’s Founder and President and was my head coach back then, encouraged us to compete in every aspect of the game, during practice, during fitness and obviously during the games.”
Playing and practicing with the Internationals Soccer Club, is where Sarver feels that she was shown the ways for a higher path. Not only did they teach her how to become a better player, she also learned how to pour her all into her studies.
“Playing at the club, that’s the environment where my coach challenged me to play-up, meaning I was playing with girls four and even five years older than me, allowing me to take my game to a higher level, forcing myself to improve my weaknesses and the club is where I was given the opportunity to be looked at by different coaches at the regional and national level,” said Sarver. “The club also helped me focus as a student, because I knew I had dreams and aspirations to play at a higher level and I had been told by my mentors, coaches, teachers, and parents that grades did come first so I knew I had to become an expert in time management in order for me to keep playing at a high level.”
Sarver’s stardom began at Jackson High School in Massillon, Ohio where she was a three-time All-Ohio and All-Region pick and was named the Akron Beacon Journal’s Athlete of the Year as a soccer player in 1993 when she led the team to the state semifinals and was named a Parade All-American. She finished her career as the school’s all-time and single-season record holder in goals, assists, and points.
Not knowing she was going to score a total of 61 goals in her college career, or that she was going to collect awards like Female Student-Athlete of the Year, Sarver took the road less traveled when she surprisingly decided to go to the University of Maryland.
“The first option (in my mind) when I started high school was the University of North Carolina,” said Sarver. “As I continued growing up and I started to take in consideration other factors, little by little, my decision started to lead towards the University of Maryland to be challenged by helping a program reach a new level.”
She was again a star at the University of Maryland, where she was a two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick and an All-American in 1998. Sarver helped the Terrapins to four NCAA Tournaments from 1995-1998 and graduated holding the school record in every major offensive category. Those records still stand today, quite the remarkable feat.
She also won the ACC’s James Weaver-Corrigan Award and in 2002, Sarver was named to the ACC’s 50th Anniversary Team.
Following graduation from college, she played professional soccer with the Washington Freedom, New York Power, and Carolina Courage of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA). Sarver also played semi-professionally for several teams in the USL W-League and was a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team pool on a number of occasions. She also spent time as an assistant coach with the University of Akron.
Sarver actually made quite an impression on former Akron head coach Vernon Croft during their time with the Zips.
“Keri Sarver has quickly become one of the finest coaches in the women’s game from the top level of U.S. Soccer through her time at the collegiate level at the University of Akron, and especially with her long standing involvement with the Internationals Soccer Club,” said Croft. “She was an immeasurable asset to our staff at Akron and was a big part of the growth we made in our short time there. A competitive coach, much the way she was as a player, really allowed our players to connect with her and understand competing is vital to success at the highest levels. Her knowledge and ability to teach the game challenged the players as well as myself and our staff. Every day we got better by having Keri a part of our program!”
As Sarver reflects on her career and her current coaching role, she is very clear why she decided to stay, preparing young athletes for the next level.
“I just feel that for me, I can connect with the young players. That’s the group that, I feel, inspires me daily. We’re supposed to teach and coach them, but instead they inspire me every single day by being so dedicated to the sport from a very young age.”
U.S. Soccer Women’s Technical Director April Heinrichs thinks this is the correct group for Sarver.
“As a former professional player and current director of her club, Keri Sarver has become an invaluable coach for us by serving as an assistant at almost every level: U14, U15, U16, U18, and U19,” said Heinrichs. “She connects with players of all ages, is a great role model and has a very analytical mind. She knows what it takes to succeed at the next level and has a remarkable ability to articulate her coaching point. We will continue to tap into her as a U.S. Youth assistant coach with an eye towards perhaps using her as scout at the youth World Cup level if she is available. It’s great to see some of our former women’s youth national team and professional players going into coaching and committing to coaching as a professional.”
Sarver’s former coach and now her colleague, Zdravko Popovic, was also quick to share praise.
“Keri never settled to be anything less than her full potential. Everything she has accomplished up to this point is a byproduct of her determination and passion for the game. She wanted to contribute by helping others to reach whatever level or goal they set out to reach, just as she did. As a club, we knew what she was bringing, we run this organization as a family and Keri definitely brought in notable family-like values.
Before finishing his comments about Sarver, Popovic emphasized his message and Sarver’s contributions to the club.
“She is very modest and hardly talks about herself, but I think her story and her achievements should not be kept a secret, it should be out there so it can inspire the upcoming athletes,” said Popovic. “Today’s members of the International Soccer Club are blessed to be led by her and have her sharing her passion and experience with them.”
Sarver holds plenty of records and awards. From early on in her playing career all the way to her coaching career, she could impress anyone with plenty of accolades she has accumulated. However, she explains there’s a better way to impact the youngsters’ lives.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of the game is teaching players life lessons through the sport,” said Sarver. “From managing their time, working toward a goal, or how to handle adversity. Just as in life, soccer has many ups and downs. Guiding them as they overcome setbacks or learn from mistakes, I think that surpasses any other lesson, simply because those are tools that will help them for the rest of their lives and I am just trying to have a positive impact on players as they navigate that process.”
Photo Credit: University of Maryland Archives, ISNSoccer.com, and Brent Durken/ISNSoccer.com