It was four years ago that Fairfield High senior Kelly Quealy first picked up a field hockey stick. But once she did, it was love at first sight.
"Freshman year, I had nothing to do in the fall," Quealy said. "I had always played three sports year round and me and my best friend Erin decided that we would try field hockey. We had never touched a stick before, and the more I played, the more I liked it."
On Wednesday in the Fairfield High School cafeteria, Quealy used her love for the sport to make history. By signing a letter of intent to play next year at Saint Francis, Pa., she became the first Fairfield athlete to sign to play at the NCAA Division I level.
"It is a really big honor," Quealy said regarding her historic moment. "I never thought this would happen. I couldn't have done it without all of my coaches supporting me."
Quealy, who plans to major in nursing, started the recruiting process with a huge list of prospective schools. Eventually, she narrowed her choices down to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Saint Francis, Pa., and Robert Morris.
"All the schools are so different," Quealy said. "IUP is huge. Their facilities are a lot different. Robert Morris is more like a city school. It was really nerve-racking going to each campus because I did not know what to expect, but once I went to Saint Francis and met the girls, it was really fun."
Quealy admits the recruiting process was fun, but overwhelming.
"It was really nerve-racking at first," she said. "Does this coach like me? This coach is going to be at this tournament and I need to make sure I play well. The more I went through it, the less I was freaked out by it. My dad helped me a lot because he used to coach high school football and knew what to expect."
While speaking to the crowd gathered to watch Quealy make history, Fairfield head coach Kellie Macharsky explained what separates Quealy from other athletes and what helped her become a Division I recruit.
"Kelly fell in love with the sport," Macharsky said. "She found every way possible to play. She started club right away. The key is she had the love and the desire. I think that's where it has to start. People play because they enjoy the game, but you have to love it to get to the level she is going."
Quealy is unsure what position she will play in college, but Macharsky anticipates defense or midfield.
"Not only does she have the defense, but she also has the offense and at (midfield), you are both," Macharsky said. "She is really good at feeding and seeing the field."
The impact Quealy has left on the Fairfield field hockey program will be felt for years, and Macharsky was quick to expound on the quality of player Quealy was.
"Kelly is a wonderful player," she said. "She is a team player. She was captain because she was one of those players that encouraged and helped the other players as often as she could. She always encouraged other players to improve their game. She is not only a fabulous athlete, but also a fabulous student. She is someone that all the other athletes should model after, especially if they want to advance their game the way she did."
As for Quealy, the fact she is going to college to play field hockey still shocks her.
"I didn't think anything would come out of field hockey," she said.
Saint Francis, Pa., thought differently.
email@example.com; 717-637-3736, extension 143. Twitter: @michaelrubin6.