Kelsey Kolojejchick and the Pride of the Badass

As we approach the first ever Erwin Cup match, this Saturday between Duke and UNC field hockey, I thought it’d be appropriate to have some coverage. Luckily, in a sports writing class at UNC last year, our professor sent us to interview UNC star Kelsey Kolojejchick. She was the team’s leading scorer, and we talked with her in a facility near their field. This was the result.

The Pride of the Badass

The first thing you notice about sophomore Kelsey Kolojejchick, besides that twisting, impossible name, is her ego.

Oddly enough, it’s not a bad thing. Not entirely.


Kelsey is a UNC field hockey star who believes in God. And she believes that God protects her.

The Gift of Fury

“There have just been a lot of instances where I’ve been injured but not taken out completely,” she said to a room full of writers. “I just think from going to church, praying every night, things like that…it’s been keeping me and my family safe. I just think He’s been looking down for me for a long time.”

This belief in God is legitimate, but it’s also a code. When you crack the cipher, the true message is revealed: Kelsey Kolojejchick believes in herself.


Ko-lo-jay-check, emphasis on the jay. That’s how you pronounce her name, if you’re so inclined.

Her accolades might be easier to remember. In 2009, as a freshman, she was named national rookie of the year. Her efforts helped lead the Tar Heels to an upset victory over Maryland in the national title game. This past fall, she led the Tar Heels in scoring. The team only lost three games all season, but each of them came at the hands of those same Maryland Terrapins. The final setback was a title rematch.


You wouldn’t call Kolojejchick pretty- she has a solid athlete’s build and lively eyes- but she radiates energy. You feel her presence when she enters a room, and she speaks quickly. Her cadence isn’t nervous, and it’s not hurried. She’s just eager to say everything that’s on her mind, to let her soul spill forth and let the words fall where they may.


But when you’ve worked out the puzzle, you’re left with contradictions.

First, despite her religiosity, she’s not a beacon of moral rectitude. Her friend and teammate Caitlin Van Sickle calls her a “badass.” That’s partly due to Kolojejchick’s three tattoos (a cross on her hip, an alpha/omega sign, and a quote: “it’s never too late”), partly because of her history (on field and off- Van Sickle makes vague allusions to an incident in high school involving alcohol), and partly because of her attitude.

On the field, Kolojejchick has a reputation for aggressive play and aggressive posturing. She’s more than willing to scream at a referee, for instance, a trait that Coach Karen Shelton has had to curb over the past two years. While it serves her well on offense, it can lead to a chronic disinterest when defense is necessary.

“As a freshman, she had such bad habits,” Shelton said. “Yes, she was good and she could score some goals, but if you don’t get back, it’s hard to tell your teammates to get back. You’ve got to have your house in order before you can lead others.”

Shelton concedes that her prodigy has improved in that department, but warns that there’s a long way to go.


Per Shelton, this is Kolojejchick at her best:

“We were playing at Duke last year, and we were down a goal but came back to tie it. Late in the game, we called her corner, she tapped it in, and it was this great win. She’s got a lot of those. You put the ball in her hands at the end, and she can carry you.”


And her worst:

“It was a spring game in Syracuse. Kelsey fell over, got tripped, whatever. But she stayed down on the ground. Wasn’t hurt, but just didn’t get up quick. If you get knocked down, you can get up and sprint back. But she stayed down on the ground, and meanwhile the other team goes down and scores a goal. So we took Kelsey out, and sat her. Then we came from behind to win. And it was an important message to send to her: our team can win without you.”

A strong ego can attract, and it can repel.


Kelsey, unlike her friend Caitlin, blames this year’s title game loss on the referees. And this is not atypical.

“I guess my attitude on the field is…I do what I want,” she says, trying to explain herself. “I’ll take control, I’ll do what I have to do for our team. If a girl pushes me, she’s going to feel it in the next five minutes. I’ll get her back some way. If the refs have a bad call, they’ll hear about it from me. I just do it, no matter what. I don’t care if it’s good or bad. It just happens.”

She admits that she’s had to work on her anger, since it’s earned her more than a few green card violations from referees. But when she speaks about herself as a ‘badass,’ the words contain the unmistakable stamp of pride.


Some of that is natural, and some comes from her family. More specifically, from her dad. He’s the one who put her in boy’s soccer leagues when she was young, and ensured when she played with girls that the competition was much older. Or maybe it was her brother Matt, who now plays football for UNC. After facing him in the back yard, the competition on the field never seemed quite so fierce.

“I never took no for an answer,” she says. “I’d find a way. I had this strut. I’d throw a big girl off the field. I just didn’t care.”


And she still finds a way. Though she’s the first to jump on a referee for a bad call, she’s not afraid to use their accidental injustice for her own ends.

Coach Shelton remembers the national title game from 2009, when they surprised the field hockey establishment by upsetting Maryland.

“When we won in 2009, we were huge underdogs,” she says. “But Kelsey had several runs- and this is her- where she’s carrying it down the right side with people on her back. And maybe she got tripped. But she took a dive, and we got a penalty corner. If we didn’t have her, we wouldn’t have won that championship.

She’s a gamer. She’s super smart. And she’s not above taking a dive.”


Kelsey’s battle, like so many egocentric athletes before her, is the subjugation of her own interests for those of the team. And while it may not seem like those interests are at odds, the effects of a self-centered attitude are deeply felt. Maybe in team chemistry, or maybe in simple moments like the spring game in Syracuse, when disappointment at her own failure led to a greater, team-wide failure.

She has the talent. She has what her coach calls “the gift of fury.” But it remains to be seen whether she can submit to a cause beyond herself without dulling the hard edges that make her so special.

Ego, in its most appealing form, can be of tremendous value to others. It can be the high tide that lifts all ships. In its dark incarnation, though, it can be a lonely funnel, destroying the things that are closest to its center.

Kelsey Kolojejchick’s story has just begun.

This entry was posted in UNC and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Kelsey Kolojejchick and the Pride of the Badass

Register |

  1. jchenkel says:

    Great article, Shane. I’m looking forward to these types of player profiles throughout the year. Any chance you’ll continue interviewing personalities like this, or was this just because you got the opportunity through your class?

  2. irish says:

    Enjoyed the article. I wonder if Kelsey is open enough to see herself in this article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *