Fast Forward: Soccer Star Juggles Final Academic Requirements, New Pro Career

Veronica Latsko tallied five game-winning goals and led the Cavaliers in scoring last fall before being drafted by the Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League.

While many of her University of Virginia classmates were catching flights home from various warm-weather spring break destinations on Saturday, Veronica Latsko was taking the first business trip of her promising professional career, from Houston to Portland, Oregon.

She may even have packed a little homework for her trip.

While still wrapping up her final year in UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, Latsko has moved to Texas to compete for a roster spot with the Houston Dash, one of nine teams in the United States’ top women’s professional soccer league. The Dash selected Latsko with the 28th overall pick in January’s National Women’s Soccer League draft, and the team is participating this week in the Thorns Spring Invitational, a preseason round-robin tournament.

In her pro debut on Sunday in Portland, Latsko headed in the first goal of what became a 2-1 Dash victory over the U.S. Women’s Under-23 National Team. On Wednesday, Houston lost, 1-0, to the Chicago Red Stars; they face the host Portland Thorns FC on Saturday before returning home.

For Latsko, juggling her final academic requirements with the demands of a nascent pro career has all been part of a plan.

“From the minute Veronica started in the Batten School, we were planning and she was working toward this outcome,” said Amanda Crombie, Batten’s director of academic programs. “I am in awe of her ability to balance an accelerated academic schedule and athletics while still being an active part of the Batten community.”

Latsko, Crombie and Heather Downs, an academic adviser in the Department of Athletics, collaborated on a plan that would allow Latsko to meet many academic requirements early, leaving her with just two courses – her Batten capstone course, Jeffery Bergner’s “War Powers,” and an independent study class with Bonnie Hagerman, director of undergraduate programs and assistant professor in the Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality – to complete in her final semester. In May, she hopes to   earn a bachelor’s degree in public policy and leadership from Batten and a second major in foreign affairs in the College of Arts & Sciences.

All of this is in addition to Latsko’s duties as president of UVA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which serves as an avenue of communication for student-athletes with the athletics administration and the University as a whole, as well as with the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference. 

“Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to do it without my coaches, everybody at Batten, all the professors,” Latsko said, specifically citing Crombie and Jill Rockwell, Batten’s senior assistant dean for student and career services. “They’ve helped me so much, including planning out my schedule so that I can run from practice to class, and for office hours because I missed my class because it overlapped with practice.”

Similarly, Latsko’s UVA coaches at times allowed her to focus on individual workouts, so she would have time free for classes.

“It was just so much coordination with all of my academic advisers and professors and my coaches, and I would never have been able to do this without their help,” Latsko said. “It was incredible.”

Latsko successfully negotiated her demanding schedule in the fall. A forward, she tallied five game-winning goals, led the Cavaliers in scoring, was named first-team All-ACC and earned her second selection to the ACC All-Academic team.

Among her biggest supporters is UVA women’s soccer coach Steve Swanson, who has worked with several players who became Olympic athletes and professionals. Latsko is the 12th UVA player drafted by the National Women’s Soccer League, more than any other U.S. college.

“If you look at all of her accomplishments in college, all the things that she’s done in college, you would be overwhelmed,” Swanson said. “It would almost make you exhausted thinking about all the things that she’s done. She’s a doer.

“But she does it with a smile on her face. She’s just such a giving person. She’s been such a good ambassador to our program and the University. We all support her and hope that she’ll make the professional roster because I think she’s got a lot to give.”

In her UVA career, Latsko played in 93 games, including coming off the bench in the national championship match in her freshman year, when the Cavaliers lost 1-0 to Florida State.

She was selected to the ACC Academic Honor Roll her first year, and also in her second, when she started 10 games and helped the team reach the NCAA quarterfinals. The Cavaliers reached the NCAA round of 16 in her last two seasons.

““When people look at an athlete, they’ll ask, ‘What did they accomplish, or what did they do?’ But, for me, it’s more important who they are on the inside. And I can tell you, Veronica is one of the best.” ”

- Steve Swanson

In the fall, Latsko served as one of three team captains. In October, she was named both United Soccer Coaches Player of the Week and the ACC Offensive Player of the Week when she tied the UVA women’s record of eight points (three goals, two assists) in one game, at the University of Pittsburgh. Latsko finished her career with 26 goals and 14 assists.

After soccer, Latsko foresees a legal career, with an emphasis on women’s rights. She recently was selected as one of 2018 recipients of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Jim and Pat Thacker postgraduate scholarships, $6,000 awards to select student-athletes who intend to pursue graduate studies.

An international commitment might be a part of her future as well. She is close to her aunt, Linda Latsko-Lockhart, whose Global Give Back Circle is a non-governmental organization that provides college scholarships and mentoring program to 1,400 at-risk young women in Kenya, China, South Africa, India and Rwanda. Latsko has traveled with her aunt in this work.

“When people look at an athlete, they’ll ask, ‘What did they accomplish, or what did they do?’” Swanson said. “But, for me, it’s more important who they are on the inside. And I can tell you, Veronica is one of the best.”

Though Latsko is excited to play professional soccer – “for as long as I can play” – she said she has mixed feelings about leaving Grounds early during her final semester.

“It’s exciting and sad,” she said. “No one ever really wants to give up their last semester of college. I don’t know too many people who are eager to leave college. But it’s exciting in that I get to try something new, and something that I’ve always aspired to do, that didn’t seem like it would become reality – and somehow did.”

Swanson reflected with a coach’s perspective of recruiting a high school athlete and watching her develop into a professional soccer player.

“With Veronica, everything you thought would happen, happened for her,” he said.

“You thought that she would be a great leader for you. You thought that she would be such a good example, with how hard she worked. You knew she would be a good student and a great ambassador for the program, both in class and on the field. And you felt strongly that she would help you win.

“And she did all those things.”

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Whitelaw Reid

University News Associate Office of University Communications