One the new elements of Bucky’s Blog will be a series of profiles with Bison student-athletes. Today, we catch up with Karli Cirovski, a junior center back on the women’s soccer team. Karli is in her second year as a starter, and she has helped Bucknell to a 3-0 start heading into today’s game at Syracuse.
Last year, Karli earned Bucknell’s Most Improved Player Award, as she was a key part of a defense that set team records for shutouts (11), consecutive shutouts (6) and scoreless minutes (655:03) and helped the Bison to a runner-up finish in the Patriot League. This season, the Bison have allowed only one goal in the first three games, and Karli is also contributing offensively. She scored a second-half equalizer in what eventually became a 3-1 win over Monmouth on opening night, and she assisted on a goal in Sunday’s 2-0 win at Wright State.
Karli was immersed in the sport of soccer since she was old enough to walk and kick a ball. Her mother, Shannon (Higgins) Cirovski, is a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. After a brilliant college career at North Carolina, where she was the national player of the year in 1989, she went on to earn 51 caps with the U.S. National Team and helped the USWNT win the 1991 World Cup in China. She later became head coach at George Washington, Maryland and the U.S. Under-18 Team.
Karli’s father, Sasho Cirovski, has been the head men’s soccer coach at Maryland since 1993, and he has led the Terrapins to two national championships while winning better than 70 percent of his games.
We asked Karli about growing up in a soccer family and about Bucknell’s early season success.
BB: What was it like having two legendary soccer figures as parents?
KC: I definitely grew up in a family where soccer is the culture and the norm. Every night I was either playing soccer or going to one of my dad’s games or my mom’s games. Soccer was always a topic of conversation at dinner, and there was always a soccer game on one of our TVs.
BB: So I imagine you developed an early passion for the sport?
KC: I think that really fueled me into loving soccer. My parents introduced me to the game, and I just fell in love with it. I knew pretty early that it was something that I wanted to do in my college career. My parents were super-supportive of me and helped me with the college process. I ended up here and I’m very happy to be here.
BB: When did you first have a ball at your feet?
KC: The first actual team that I was on was at about four years old, but even before that I was surrounded by soccer. “Soccer” must have been one of my first words.
BB: How did your parents shape you as a soccer player?
KC: My mom coached my team when I was growing up, so I got a lot of insight from her. My dad was more of an adviser to me, while my mom spent more time with me on tactics and game strategy since she was my coach. My dad was the one who helped me deal with the mental side of soccer. He’s a huge proponent of the psychological and mental side of the game. Whenever I had stress, he would recommend different books to read. So he was more of a mentor on that side of it. My mom and dad after games would give me feedback after games, but they also did a great job separating our soccer lives from raising a daughter. They were really good about being hands-off parents and letting me do my own thing. From all of their experience in soccer, they both have seen plenty of examples of parents who want to control everything in their kids’ lives, and they wanted to be more hands-off. Now as a college athlete, they are just supporters, they are no longer my coaches. They are there for me on the sidelines, but it’s definitely a different role for them.
BB: How much time did you spend at the University of Maryland?
KC: College Park was like my second home. People ask me why I didn’t just go to Maryland, but I feel like I grew up there and didn’t want to go to school in my back yard. I have a great love for that school. I’m a Terp at heart. A lot of my childhood was spent there. Both my parents coached there, and throughout my childhood I was at every single one of my dad’s home games. It’s been a tough transition coming to Bucknell and not being able to go to my dad’s games anymore. Actually last year our whole team went out to Penn State to watch Maryland play there. It was a really exciting game — Maryland won 4-3 — and it was a great time. They just had their first game against UCLA, and I was watching it on the bus on the way back from one of our games. It’s definitely a huge part of me, and I take Terrapin pride wherever I go.
BB: Does your dad ever get to see you play?
KC: It’s really hard for him, because we are both in season at the same time. But he does his best to follow us, especially early in the season because the men start a week later. He got to see our scrimmage at Delaware, and then he came for the opening game against Monmouth. It’s funny because I scored in both games, so I told him he needs to keep coming to all the games because I score every time he comes! But he does the best he can to follow us even when he can’t be here. He watches online when he can.
BB: Does having parents who have been college soccer coaches give you a sense of appreciation for your coaches at Bucknell: head coach Kelly Cook and assistants David Madsen and Leigh Howard?
KC: It gives me a lot of respect for my coaches at Bucknell, because I know first-hand what they go through. I have a ton of respect for our coaching staff here. Kelly came into a program with a lot of different personalities and really united us, and I know from experience that is not an easy thing to do. She shows a ton of respect for her players, which is something that every player wants. Honestly, I don’t ever compare Kelly to my parents. It’s a completely different realm. She is my coach at Bucknell, and my parents are my parents, a completely separate entity. My mom and dad were away from home quite a bit, either coaching or recruiting. The job really never ends, they always have some sort of work to do.
BB: Let’s talk about the team a little bit. Last year the Bison finished 11-6-3 overall and 6-1-2 in the Patriot League, falling 1-0 to Boston University in the Patriot League championship game. Now the team is off to a 3-0 start. How excited are you and your teammates to build off of last year’s success?
KC: It’s awesome to get out to a 3-0 start. It’s great to win games, but we are still working out some kinks. We want to peak in Patriot League play. We have a lot of experienced players and some newcomers who are making an impact, and we have had a lot of people who have had to step up due to injuries. I’m really proud of how our team is meshing right now. We still have some things we need to sort out by the time we open up with Boston [on Sept. 18], which is going to be a huge challenge. I think the best thing for us is to face some adversity early in the season and play some teams with different strengths and then adapt to it. We are definitely headed in the right direction and I’m really excited about this year.
BB: Our defense has been spectacular since about midway through last year. Was there a certain moment where things just started clicking?
KC: Last year we had a lot of new faces on defense, and we were trying to figure out our roles and how to work together. We had some bumps in the road early in the year, but I think the place where we really king of figured it out was in California. We played Long Beach State and lost 1-0 in overtime, but that game helped us realize that our defense was good enough to stop one of the top offenses in the nation. We got a lot of confidence from that game.
BB: So now it seems like the team is just trying to build on that confidence?
KC: I’m so happy with our defense, I feel so at home back there. Obviously last year we had great success and set some records, but our goal isn’t really to set records, it’s just to hold the other team scoreless and play the game to the best of our ability. We have some great individual talent back there, but the way we play together, I think this group has a lot going for it.
BB: How about your game? You have come a long way since the start of your freshman season.
KC: I didn’t play much my freshman year, so it was a tough transition going from just a few minutes per game to 90. It was definitely a jump, but the main thing I changed in my game was just my mentality. I used to play with a lot of stress and a lot of nerves, which impacted my play at times. I talked to my dad a lot about it, and I talked to Kelly a lot about it, and they helped me through it. When I finally started to play with confidence was when I started to turn my game around. I started playing with more conviction. I’ve learned from that, and I want this to be my best year yet. I want to keep climbing the ladder.
BB: The center back position requires plenty of confidence. How has your maturation as a player helped you improve at that key position?
KC: It’s a position on the field where you can see everything, so the center backs have to do the most communication on the field organizationally. We are constantly talking, and we have a big leadership responsibility. It’s something that I love about the game. It’s almost like being a coach on the field. I love talking about soccer.
BB: In the season opener against Monmouth, we were down 1-0 in the second half until you and Maddie Dano — our other center back — scored two quick goals to change the game. So are you a goal-scorer all of the sudden?
KC: It’s awesome scoring goals and I wouldn’t mind doing more of it. We do have a lot of offensive talent back there. Jackie [Ham] is a converted forward and she is very dangerous getting forward. Dano and I, when we’re not taking the corner kicks are in the box, so that’s an area of my game that I focused on a lot this summer and I want to get better at. I want to contribute to the team as much as I can, so if that means scoring some goals then great. Kelsey Witt can fly, and she is always capable of contributing some assists, and she wants to get a goal of her own. I really hope that happens for her.
BB: Thanks Karli, and good luck the rest of the season!