Players of the Year (Part 1: The Girls)
During a brilliant field hockey career at Wake Forest, Kelly Dostal has played through great pain, but she's also laid a serious hurt on opponents.
By Maggie Haskins
It is quite possible that Kelly Dostal is the result of a secret government project. A plan to create a scorer to tear up Wake Forest and ACC field hockey records. A player who wins a litany of individual honors but is also the cohesive force on the Demon Deacons' back-to-back NCAA championship teams.
The evidence? The faint two-inch scar on the left side of her forehead. There's a story here. When Dostal was three, her four-year-old brother accidentally hit her upside the noggin with a golf club, and the toddler had surgery to remove skull fragments from her brain -- presenting a perfect opportunity for government or NCAA scientists to implant a chip and engineer a field hockey all-star.
Before you scoff at a theory that seems born out of Zoolander or RoboCop, take a quick peek at Dostal's accomplishments: 2004 ACC Offensive Player of the Year for the No. 3 team in the country. Two-time All-America. Three-time All-ACC selection. Wake Forest's alltime career and single-season leader in points (201, 76) and goals (83, 29). The team is 76-11 in her four years. Her six ACC Player of the Week honors are the second most in school history, topped only by some hoopster dude from the Virgin Islands named Tim Duncan. As a high school senior she was the youngest player ever to earn a spot on the U.S. national team.
It's no wonder her coaches and teammates hold the 5'4" blonde -- "I'm a small 5'4"," she says, "a big 5'3"" -- in such high regard. Wake Forest associate head coach Neil Macmillan calls her "the ultimate forward."
Kelly Dostal: too good to be true.
"[Being a scorer] is a quality you either have or you don't," Macmillan says as he recalls his favorite Dostal moment. "In the [2002 national] semifinals against Michigan State she took the ball down the left wing, pretty much a yard off the baseline on the left-hand side, and smashed it off the far post over the goalkeeper's left shoulder. Everyone watching was like, 'That is incredible,' because you never shoot from that angle. We have a rule that you don't shoot from that angle."
Macmillan's sentiments are echoed by the coach of Wake's biggest rival, Karen Shelton of top-ranked North Carolina. "Kelly is an outstanding forward, one of the best that I have ever seen. Nobody receives the ball and shoots quicker than she does," says Shelton, whose Tar Heels knocked off the Deacons in the ACC tournament semifinals 2-1 in overtime. "We have to tailor our game plan to control Kelly. She is always a key to the game."
Still don't believe that Dostal is some sort of bionic woman? More dope: She arrived at Wake Forest in 2001 with bilateral stress fractures in both shins. During her first two years as a Demon Deacon she was haunted by the fear that her legs might break at any second during a game.
"Since that hasn't happened, it's just something you deal with," Dostal says. "It was never really an option not to play through it. People would says things like, 'This is only four years -- you have the rest of your life. You don't want to end up in a wheelchair in 10 years.'"
The stress fractures are still there even though she has tried every remedy: surgery, acupuncture, massage, electric stimulation. Her legs are barely coping with the stress she places on them. Dostal wakes up seriously hurting at least once a week.
"She probably has the highest pain tolerance of anyone I know," Macmillan says. "That is the biggest tribute to her -- whatever she is going through, she will be out there on the field playing."
Leading by example is a hallmark of the quiet Dostal, who grew up in a small town in western Massachusetts. She tried field hockey as a seventh-grader because her school, Smith Academy, didn't offer soccer.
"She pretty much says, 'Come with me, and I'll show you the way,'" says former teammate Kelly Doton, the consensus 2003 national player of the year and now a volunteer assistant at Wake.
Still, the sports world is full of great scorers whose individual achievements do not translate to team success. Dostal isn't one of them. "She pushes you because you're like, Wow, she is great," says Deacons sophomore Lauren Crandall, an All-ACC midfielder. "I want to achieve some of those things or help her achieve hers and be her best. She is just inspirational on the field."
This inspiration is not limited to the field. In fact the entire campus considers Dostal royalty: Last month the student body elected her homecoming queen. "When I first heard I was nominated, I was like, That's nice, but come on, this is not going to happen," Dostal says, laughing.
It did, though the star forward couldn't be there for the announcement because the team had to bus to Charlottesville to play Virginia the next day. So instead of waving to a crowd of 31,403 at a football game, Dostal received her sash, roses and tiara a few hours earlier outside the home of the Student Athletic Committee adviser (who bakes cookies for road trips), clad in the finest attire Under Armour could supply.
Dostal also received a diamond-studded pin that says queen '04, which she jokes "has become a staple item on my body, of course."
This weekend Dostal, who will graduate with a degree in health and exercise science, will finish her college playing career -- alas, without wearing the pin -- as Wake Forest goes for its third consecutive national championship. While fans eagerly talk about her individual records and the likely forthcoming national player of the year awards, those honors are not what Dostal will take from her four years in Winston-Salem.
"I won't remember getting a call from media relations telling me that I was named this or that," she says. "The best memories I have are of our championships and winning big games."
Definitely too good to be true.
Issue date: November 18th 2004