Mighty Mite

Most times, Sarah Romasco—a petite, 5-foot-2 blonde with angelic features and a high-pitched voice—seems as intimidating as a kitten. But place a soccer ball at her feet and she becomes a tigress, fierce and formidable.

Sarah Romasco

Sarah Romasco

Romasco ranks second all-time at IUP in goals (57), assists (31), and points (145) and is poised to pass the record holder in those categories—former teammate Erin Falce—this season. Early this season, given her penchant for finding the back of the net.

“Sarah has a nose for the goal,” says Crimson Hawks coach Adel Heder. “She has that attacking mentality. Every time she gets the ball, she turns and goes for the goal. She gets double- and triple-teamed, but somehow she finds her way to the goal and scores.”

The senior forward from Freedom passed Heder’s daughter Crystal into second place in all three scoring categories last year. She needs two goals, two assists, and six points to equal Falce’s totals, and could conceivably eclipse the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference records for goals (74) and points (178) with another blockbuster season.

What boggles the mind, given her 123-goal career at Ambridge High School, is that so many recruiters passed on Romasco, swayed more by her stature than her stats. Even after arriving at IUP, opponents underestimated the undersized Romasco, who looked like she’d wandered away from a youth league game and mistakenly wound up in a collegiate one.

But any doubts about whether Romasco belonged vanished when she began drilling shots past wide-eyed goalkeepers. Romasco led the conference in points (55) as a freshman, tied for the lead in goals (21), set a school record for assists (13), and earned Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year honors.

“It’s funny, because in the PSAC you play every team twice,” she says. “The first time we played teams, they would mark Crystal and Erin, which is understandable, and then they’d look at me and it was like, whatever. But the second time we played them, I was man-marked.”

The freshman who initially flew under everyone’s radar began attracting more attention than Angelina Jolie at a Hollywood premiere. Defenders stuck to her like glue, yet she still ranked eighth in NCAA Division II in points per game (2.62), earned the first of her three All-PSAC West first-team honors, and helped lead IUP to the PSAC West championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament. It was a virtuoso performance, particularly for a newcomer.

“To be able to go into your freshman year and have that big of an impact…that’s really unusual,” says Romasco’s brother Kevin, an assistant coach at Ambridge during her senior season there and later a defender/midfielder with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds professional team. “For most people, their freshman year is all about getting used to college play. It’s a lot quicker than high school play, and you’re not going against girls that just want to be out there—these are girls with scholarships. It’s kind of the best of the best. And she went out there and made a statement.”

A statement that merited an exclamation point at the end. Romasco set the tone in her third game with three goals and an assist in a 9-3 victory over Bridgeport, then netted four goals—equaling Falce’s singlegame record—in a 10-1 rout of Clarion. She had a hand in a whopping 44 percent of IUP’s goals for the season. That sort of offensive explosiveness surprised some around the PSAC, but not Heder. He’d coached Romasco since 2000, when she debuted for the Pittsburgh Strikers 12-and-under club team.

“When I first saw her, she was really small,” Heder recalls, “but she was an amazing soccer player. When I saw how she handled the ball, I knew she had the talent to do something special in soccer.”

Romasco still leaves opponents lunging at air as she dribbles through traffic. That’s when standing only 5-2 actually works to her advantage.

“I have a lower center of gravity,” Romasco says, “so I’m very good at shielding the ball from defenders. I can maybe maneuver better, too. I can use my quickness to get around people, and I look toward the goal and just go.”

Forays deep into enemy territory are often accompanied by hip checks, kicks to the ankle, trips, and the occasional elbow, but Romasco is able to shake off defenders’ attempts to neutralize her. For that she can thank Kevin and her other older brother, Brian. Whether it was soccer, football, or basketball, they refused to treat their kid sister with kid gloves during pickup games in which contact was not only condoned, but expected. Their physical brand of play infused Romasco with a degree of toughness that has served her well.

“When I was younger, if my brothers went anywhere, I would always tag along,” she says. “I always wanted to do what they did. Playing sports with them made me tough. There was no crying around them, no whining. So I learned to be tough and stick it out.”

Opposing goalkeepers are now paying the price. The player passed over by so many recruiters because of her height will almost certainly end her IUP career as the program’s preeminent scorer and possibly finish atop the PSAC charts as well. Heady stuff for someone who wasn’t convinced she had the goods to succeed.

“I didn’t know what to expect at the collegiate level—what it would take to play, and if I even had what it took,” Romasco says. “I didn’t even know if I was going to start or not. I just tried to go out and do my best all the time. But I never expected to be in this position.”

Not even Nostradamus could have foreseen this. Sarah Romasco, with her petite stature and angelic features, might seem as intimidating as a kitten. But with a ball at her feet, as so many opponents have discovered, she’s as fierce as a tigress, poised to pounce.

IUP Career Leaders

Goals

59 Erin Falce
(2003–06)
57 Sarah Romasco
(2006–)
42 Crystal Heder
(2003–06)
36 Amy Peterson
(1994–95)
29 Tia Kipp
(1999–2002)
28 Denise Lazor
(1995–99)
26 Liz Campedel
(1995–98)
25 Brittany Pikur
(2004–07)
20 Ray Schreiner
(2006–07)
14 Three tied

Assists

33 Erin Falce
(2003–06)
31 Sarah Romasco
(2006–)
28 Crystal Heder
(2003–06)
25 Lindsey Tyberg
(1994–97)
25 Tia Kipp
(1999–2002)
16 Shana Speese
(2004–06)
15 Brittany Pikur
(2004–07)
13 Cara Roeder
(2002–04)
13 Emily Thomas
(2003–04)
13 Meghan Jones
(2002–05)

Points*

151 Erin Falce
(2003–06)
145 Sarah Romasco
(2006–)
112 Crystal Heder
(2003–06)
83 Tia Kipp
(1999–2002)
81 Amy Peterson
(1994–95)
66 Denise Lazor
(1995–99)
65 Brittany Pikur
(2004–07)
55 Liz Campedel
(1995–98)
46 Ray Schreiner
(2006–07)
45 Lindsey Tyberg
(1994–97)

*two points are awarded for each goal and one for each assist