Every team needs a utility player: someone the coach can throw in any position and get production from them no matter what. For the NC State women’s soccer team, that player is sophomore midfielder Toni Starova.
Starova has experience beyond her years. Prior to coming to NC State she featured for AC Sparta Prague in her native Czech Republic. While Starova was with the team, they won FAČR Cup Championships in 2015 and 2017. They also qualified for the UEFA Champions League three years in a row.
Starova has also gained experience with her national team, making 10 appearances for the full Czech national team.
“I think I bring a lot of experience and I think that this team needs a couple of experienced people, so I think that is the biggest thing that I can offer,” Starova said. “I think that I will fight in every game that we play so those are some of the things that I bring.”
While Starova collected a ton of experience on the European scene, she also gained experience in the U.S. playing for Delaware prior to transferring to NC State. While there, she was named to the 2018 All-CAA Rookie Team.
There are a host of differences compared to her experiences in Europe and at Delaware that Starova has had to overcome.
“The biggest difference is that we are playing so many more games,” Starova said. “The whole structure of the season is different and that was the biggest shock for me. We were playing two games in a week and that was a big adjustment I had to make.”
Age is another difference between Starova’s experiences in Europe compared to her time in college, as she has gone from one of the youngest on her teams to playing with people close to her own age.
“Another difference is that obviously we have much more younger players than I had on my club team and national team,” Starova said. “So you can really see that the girls on my national team are more experienced than at a college.”
The differences are not unwelcome, however, as Starova has found a second family in her teammates at NC State.
“It’s my family honestly, because obviously I don’t have anyone else here,” Starova said. “It’s been so nice to work with those girls and it feels really good to be a part of this Wolfpack family.”
The feeling is mutual among her teammates as well, with players like junior goalkeeper Jessica Berlin enjoying the time she has gotten to spend with Starova.
“I love having Toni as a teammate. I really enjoy hanging out at practices on the field and off the field,” Berlin said. “She is super fun to travel with because on days like today when we get delayed and moved it's just a lot we can always look over at Toni and smile. We were practicing moonwalking today in the airport.”
Finding a family here at NC State is important for Starova as family has been one of her driving factors throughout her soccer career. She credits her dad for her development as a player.
“I would have to start with my dad because he has been my personal coach my whole life,” Starova said. “He is definitely No. 1 but I can’t pick out one coach, all of them have been really useful for me.”
Starova’s father has been her No. 1 fan since day one, supporting her even from the earliest days of her soccer journey.
“I started [playing soccer] when I started going to school because all my boy friends used to play after class, so we would do that every day after school,” Starova said. “My dad really supported me because he was also a soccer player, so those are a few reasons why I started.”
With a difficult season ahead, Starova will be a key part of what the NC State women’s soccer team can do on the field, but what she brings off the field is just as important.