Kat Sharkey and Kelsey Kolojejchick have spent countless hours together on hockey fields, dating back more than a decade.
Yet it was the time the two Wyoming Seminary graduates were temporarily separated a year ago that has helped shape the look of the U.S. women’s field hockey team heading to the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in August.
When the team gets to Brazil, expect to see Kolojejchick constantly moving through half of the positions on the field.
The U.S. had still not officially qualified for Rio when it headed to the Pan American Games in July 2015 without Sharkey — who suffered a broken ankle right before the tournament — and with Dallas graduate and 2012 Olympian Paige Selenski trying to play through a serious hamstring injury that has since required surgery.
With its offense suddenly hindered by the loss of the pair of strikers, Kolojejchick’s workload was altered.
Primarily a midfielder in international play prior to that, Kolojejchick thrived rotating between the three midfield and two forward positions. She led Team USA with seven goals, helping the squad clinch its berth in the Olympics after winning the Pan American Games title, including a 2-1 victory over Argentina, the world’s third-ranked team and the first U.S. opponent in Rio on Aug. 6.
“I actually am doing the exact same role since the Pan Ams because at the time Kat was injured, so we needed another forward, then Paige was injured, so we only had three forwards,” Kolojejchick said. “I start in the midfield and I just rotate between mid and forward.
“I’ve had numerous times to get used to this. It’s a regular thing for me now.”
Sharkey made her way back and Selenski headed to the sideline for surgery and rehabilitation. Still short a key offensive weapon, coach Craig Parnham continued to turn to Kolojejchick.
With about three weeks until the Olympics, Kolojejchick has settled into a routine. She usually starts at the left midfield spot and begins making her way through the other positions as needed.
The Olympic roster, which was revealed July 1, will include Kolojejchick and Sharkey. Selenski, on the comeback trail, is on stand-by as an alternate in case one of the 15 active field players is sidelined.
Kolojejchick and Sharkey, who already played in the World Cup – which shares stature as one of the two biggest events in international field hockey – will be playing in the Olympics for the first time.
Prior to Selenski’s injury, the three Wyoming Valley Conference graduates all seemed poised to take a spot on the 16-player active roster for Rio.
Kolojejchick has maintained her prominent role and Sharkey got back on track quickly enough after injury that their selections seemed almost inevitable.
“You always get a little nervous,” Kolojejchick said. “Being selected for most of the tournaments gave me a confidence boost, so I was pretty confident going into it, but I was really happy to finally solidify it and see my name.
“ … It’s just like, ‘Holy crap, this really is happening.’ ”
Kolojejchick said “it is crazy to have that title” with your name, but she expects to feel even more like an Olympian when the team heads to Houston to prepare for its sendoff, including collecting all the Team USA gear that will be worn in Brazil.
Sharkey hated to miss the Pan American Games, but she didn’t allow the setback ruin the momentum she had toward achieving the ultimate Olympic goal.
“We have individual meetings with our coaches every few months that kind of give you an idea where you stand on the team and what you need to work on moving forward,” Sharkey said. “We are given small indications of our status on the team, but it was nice to get that official notification that I was on the roster going to Rio.”
When they get there, two of the driving forces behind the Blue Knights’ 2006 state championship will be working on the field just like in their days at Wyoming Seminary. Kolojejchick won another state title as a senior in 2008 after Sharkey had graduated.
“I would love to see if in the past if this has happened and on what teams,” Kolojejchick said. “ … To have two teammates from high school is a pretty rare thing. It gets forgotten sometimes, but then when it’s mentioned, people are like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty incredible.’
“It’s exciting. … When other people see it, it gets their attention because it’s so rare.”
Kolojejchick, from Larksville, and Sharkey, from Moosic, are roommates when the team is in training in Lancaster. The players on the national team spend so much training time together that all know each other well on the field, but it runs a bit deeper for the Sem duo.
“I think we’ve always had a connection on the field,” Sharkey said. “She knows my tendencies and I know hers. We can find each other with the ball. With passes, we can anticipate what the other is going to do.
“It’s definitely nice to have that connection with someone on the field, but I think overall our team has been playing together for so many years now that the entire team is connected similarly.”
Reach Times Leader sports at 570-829-7143 or on Twitter @tlsports.