If you asked the smartest coaches in soccer what they were looking for in an ideal player, it wouldn’t be blistering pace or a rifle-barrel shot. It wouldn’t be sixth-sense instincts or a silky smooth touch on the ball.
The thing that coaches want most in footballer is drive; the willingness to work hard, no matter what. So while you may watch Sarah Schupansky feather in perfect passes and curl shots past goalkeepers and think it was second-nature to her, it only appears that way because she worked for it.
Schupansky, the 2020 Moe Rosensteel Award winner as the best girl’s soccer player in WPIAL, concluded her high school soccer career in November. Along the way, she picked up enough accolades to crowd a whole wing of her family home in Wexford with trophies. She led her North Allegheny High School team to back-to-back WPIAL 4A Championships and her 2020 team made it all the way to the PIAL Final game; she was named to the PIAL All-State team and the United Soccer Coaches All-American team; she was named to the ECNL girl’s National Selection game this year, too.
None of it seems to have gone to her head.
“I’m beyond grateful for everything,” says Schupansky. “All the awards mean so much to me, especially the Moe Rosensteel award because of the story behind it and the significance. But I’m not letting it get to my head. It just makes me want to work harder. In my mind, the work never stops.”
Sarah’s soccer life started off humbly enough, on the North Allegheny recreational team her father coached. But her fanatical commitment to the sport from a young age quickly made her parents realize that she was going to need more advanced coaching. She jumped to the North Allegheny travel team, then FC Pittsburgh, and then finally Pittsburgh Riverhound RDA by the time she was 12 years old. At each step of the way, her work ethic helped distinguish her from her peers.
Her dad was by no means an experienced coach, but he had some sage advice about how to improve. “He would say ‘if you’re going to take ten shots with your right, and your left is worse, take twenty with your left.'” As a result, Schupansky is virtually ambidextrous with her feet – favoring neither her left or her right. And those little ideas: work on the things you aren’t good at; get good at all the little things; helped to develop her into a fantastic and multi-faceted player.
At RDA, Sarah got experience at every field position, but naturally gravitated to forward. She explains, “I was always up there (in the attacking half). I just always loved scoring goals and setting up opportunities and being part of the attack.”
And score she has. Sarah scored 55 goals for North Allegheny high from 2018 to 2020, as well as 34 goals for her RDA club team. And although she has a striker’s nose for goal, the players she most patterns her game after are a pair of midfielders and an all-around utility player.
“I love to watch Alex Morgan. When I was really little I remember Alex Morgan during the Olympics in overtime (it was the semi-final match against Canada), I remember she scored the winning header. I was jumping up and down and none of my family knew what was going on.”
(Here’s video of that goal, in case you don’t remember):
“I like watching Rose Lavelle and how she distributes the ball and works with the midfield. As a center forward, I track back a little bit.”
“I love watching Crystal Dunn because of her work ethic and her versatility on the field.” Dunn, an exceptional striker in NWSL, has played mostly at left back for the US Women’s National team due to a lack of talented left footed fullbacks available for national team duty. Schupansky’s observations on Dunn might be especially astute, considering the possibility that she may need to prove her versatility in order to find playing time once she makes the jump to playing collegiate soccer at Pitt this spring.
Schupansky committed to Pitt her freshman year, in Randy Waldrum’s very first year coaching the Lady Panthers. Back then, in 2018, the Pitt Women’s team were still a long way from even being a competitive team, much less a decent one. They finished that season with a 4-12-1 record, and an 0-10 record in the ACC. They were outscored in-conference 38 to 2. Still, Waldrum saw something in a young and talented Schupansky, and Schupansky trusted that Waldrum, despite all past evidence at Pitt, was going to turn the program around.
Schupansky explains, “People were surprised when I did commit. When I talked to Randy Waldrum, I knew that he was the kind of coach that I wanted to play for. I wasn’t just going to go a school for it’s record or it’s history. When I went to North Allegheny, we made history there, we were the first team to win WPIAL. We did it twice.”
Been waiting 4 years for this day!! Thanks to all of my coaches and teammates over the years who have helped me get here. So excited to be a panther! 😁🐾💙 @Pitt_WSOC @NATigerAthletic @HoundsAcademy @theECNL #nsd20 pic.twitter.com/5HYTlaGNWg
— Sarah Schupansky (@sarahschupansky) November 11, 2020
She was right to take that leap of faith. Waldrum rebuilt the Panthers, and in 2019 they had a more respectable 5-10-3 record, including two ACC wins. In 2020, Pitt went an impressive 9-5-0, and rose as high as #12 in the national rankings, the first time the women’s soccer team had ever been ranked in the top 25 in program history. Schupansky thinks the team will only get better.
“With the recruiting class they’re bringing in, I think we do have a chance of making history, and I’m excited to see what the next four years bring.”
Sarah may need to channel her inner-Crystal Dunn to see the field in the next year. Pitt has one of the best strikers in the NCAA in Amanda West; she scored 13 goals this past fall, the most in women’s college soccer. Coach Waldrum started the same trio of young underclasswomen in midfield too, as Sophomore Anna Bout and Freshmen Emily Yaple and Chloe Minas gobbled up the vast majority of minutes. There’ll be competition with her fellow incoming players, too, as Pitt is adding 11 top prospects for 2021, including 2019 Moe Rosensteel Player of the Year Ellie Caufield.
For his part, Waldrum is super-high on Schupansky, and clearly thinks she’s most likely to contribute to the Panthers at her most natural position: center forward. Waldrum told us,“We believe Sarah is the top attacking player coming out of Western Pa. She is dangerous and a threat at all times in and around goal. Her pace, technique, and ability to combine with teammates or go herself to goal is similar to Amanda West. She’ll impact our program right away and give us another goal-scoring threat in our attack.”
And of course, Waldrum noticed that Schupansky’s dedication and commitment were a major reason he was so excited to add her to his team. “(Sarah’s) a high character person that continues to put time in to improve her game.”
Sarah is excited to make the jump up in levels to play for the Panthers, and she hopes playing alongside the supremely talented West can help her grow as a player. “I’m excited to play with Amanda West. It’s great to have someone to look up to.” She’d be comfortable slotting in wherever Waldrum can use her for the coming Spring season. “I’m definitely open to playing different positions. I know versatility is key in a recruit. My Riverhounds coaches have been preparing me for that, too.”
Whatever it’ll take for Schupansky to succeed – and for her team to succeed, she’s determined to put in the effort.
“I’ve known since freshman year that, going to pitt, I was going to play against the amazing players in the ACC. To be honest, when I’m dreading a workout, or I don’t feel like getting up at 5 am, then I just remember ‘there’s other players out there working hard, then I have to go out there and work harder.”