Courtney O’Malley had become equal parts accustomed to and frustrated by the waiting. The South Forsyth rising senior goal keeper watched all her teammates with her United Futbol Academy club team make college commitments these past few years, and when a promising connection started to develop for O’Malley herself there always seemed to be a snag along the way.
Dartmouth College seemed possible, but as an Ivy League school, it couldn’t offer O’Malley an athletic scholarship. O’Malley liked UNC-Asheville, but she had to be vetted by three different coaches over the course of 10 months.
But O’Malley was rewarded for her patience: the War Eagles’ goalie verbally committed to UNC-Asheville Monday.
“It was a long process,” O’Malley said, “but I’m super-happy with how it ended up.”
O’Malley would join a Bulldogs program in a steady build under head coach Michelle Demko, now going into her eighth season. Demko’s first team went 1-16 in 2010. UNC-Asheville went 8-12 last season after winning 10 and 11 games in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
UNC-Asheville would get one of the county’s top goal keepers, an all-county and all-region player at South the past two seasons – but not next season. O’Malley won’t play her senior season with the War Eagles after UFA joined the U.S. Development Academy, which prohibits high school participation.
O’Malley said it was difficult to learn she couldn’t play for South her senior season, but she hopes it better prepares her for soccer competing in the Big South Conference at UNC-Asheville. Plus, O’Malley noticed many of her fellow UNC-Asheville recruits also play for teams in the Development Academy or Elite Clubs National League, the other major club-soccer system in the country. She takes that as a good sign for the Bulldogs’ future.
Her own college future was unclear. O’Malley followed the advice of her club coaches from early on: she created a list of 20 possible colleges to play for, casting a wide net to better catch a coach’s interest, and sent them emails with highlights and their club team’s schedule.
“I’d been doing that for a while,” O’Malley said. “After a few schools, things just started not working out.”
Going into her junior year at South, O’Malley and her dad reset the process. He found UNC-Asheville. The mountainous, outdoorsy feel appealed to O’Malley. She contacted them and discovered through Bulldogs assistant coach Kyle Stewart that they weren’t strangers; they’d seen O’Malley at previous summer tournaments.
O’Malley said Demko got to watch her play for the first time at a tournament this past March. She liked O’Malley. Demko and Stewart watched her again in June. The last step was to let UNC-Asheville’s goalkeeper coach Zak Davis see O’Malley in person, but Davis was still an undergraduate at the school, so he couldn’t recruit off campus, per NCAA rules.
So O’Malley attended UNC-Asheville’s camp this past Saturday, where she worked extensively with Davis and earned his seal of approval. The Bulldogs officially offered O’Malley a scholarship.
After her long recruiting journey, O’Malley didn’t need long to make a decision.
“It was pretty quick after that,” O’Malley said. “I was like, ‘Alright, I’m ready to go.’”