A ball girl no more, Kelsey Ring is shining on the soccer field for Clark University’s women’s team.
A ball girl no more, Kelsey Ring is shining on the soccer field for Clark University’s women’s team.
Liz Mattarazzo/Clark Athletics

At Clark, Kelsey Ring goes from ball girl to starter

Kelsey Ring was just the ball girl.

She was a 5-foot-3, nervous freshman at Clark University and standing on the sidelines chasing soccer balls when they rolled out of bounds, taking an earful from urgent players or cranky referees if she didn’t retrieve them fast enough.

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Ring, who had played soccer for Stoneham High before graduating in 2010, worked an often-thankless job that served as a constant reminder of her biggest regret: She was no longer playing competitive soccer. Ring idolized the girls on the field. And it hurt to be on the sidelines.

But just touching the ball with her feet made her feel closer to the game, so she stayed on as the ball girl for both the men’s and women’s soccer teams that fall.

The season’s end, though, would be the last time Ring ever worked that job.

“I knew what I was born to do,” she said. “I was born to play soccer.”

In the winter of 2010-11, Ring continued working for the Clark athletic department by keeping stats at basketball games, but she had already made it clear to her boss, Kevin Anderson, that she was thinking about making a run at the women's soccer team herself.

In four years as the sports information director at Clark, Anderson had never seen a ball girl or ball boy even attempt to try out for the team they were working for, much less make the final roster.

The odds were against Ring, and she was well aware.

“There were definitely times where I didn't know if I was actually good enough or didn’t think I’d ever get a chance,” she said. “There were moments of weakness. But I knew if I got through it, I might have a chance.”

Ring had some help on her side. Her dorm-room neighbors, Janelle Pasternack and Emily Braun , were freshmen on the soccer team. And when Ring doubted herself, they kept insisting she at least show up to the spring workouts.

“She was really nervous,” Pasternack remembers. “It took a little push because I don’t think she really thought she could do it, or would do it. She was the ball girl.”

What happened that spring, though, should give every ball girl, athletic department intern, or any type of self-retired athlete hope that he or she could go back and give it one more chance.

Ring was actually good.

“I think a lot of people were really, really impressed, almost astonished that she played that well,” Pasternack said. “She got on the field and proved a point. She proved it to herself and proved it to a lot of people.”

But Clark coach Joe Brady wasn’t totally sold. He could see the rust. And he had trouble finding a position that would fit her.

So he told Ring to work hard all summer and come back for fall tryouts.

After a few very active months, Ring made the team last fall. But when October came around, she had yet to get a minute of playing time.

Oct. 12 against Lasell marked the last nonconference game of the season.

The time was winding down and the game was still scoreless. This was her chance.

“I heard [Brady] call one of the other people that usually sat with me,” Ring said. “I got nervous he would call mine. Then he did and I started freaking out. I got nervous. I warmed up too hard, too much, I don’t know. I was a mess. I didn’t play well.”

This fall, Ring has been better, finally having settled as an outside defender, an area where the Cougars really needed help after losing three starters to graduation. She’s started five times this season, and appeared in 11 of 12 games for the Cougars (4-7-1 through Thursday); she recorded her first career point with an assist in Thursday’s 7-0 win over Elms.

“It’s kind of remarkable still,” she said. “I feel very lucky to be on a college athletics team. The fact that I'm still playing soccer and I’m 20, and I started when I was 5, is awesome.”

Ring still hears the ball girl reference every now and then, but that reputation has, for the most part, faded.

“It took a long time for people to look at her in a different way,” Pasternack said. “I don't think people expected her to succeed as she has. We’re so happy for her.” And for every future ball girl with big dreams and a coach who gives her a chance.

“Kelsey made her dream come true,” Brady said. “I know what you’re saying — I made her dream come true by writing her name in the lineup, but she made it come true by hard work.

“It hasn’t been easy for her. I rode her pretty good. She came out of games, didn’t start a couple. But she earned this.”

Campus achievers

The goalless streak of Trinity men’s soccer keeper Jason Katz (Middleton) is sitting at 352 minutes, a span of almost four games in which the Bantams have gone 2-0-2. The sophomore and his defense have allowed just six goals in nine games this season and have kept the Bantams without a loss in four double-overtime games. . . .

North Andover’s Candace Waldie buried an overtime goal to lift the Merrimack College field hockey team, ranked seventh nationally, over Bentley, 3-2, on Tuesday. Waldie’s 14 goals were third in the Northeast-10 Conference, and her eight assists were tops in the league last week.