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BVA's Kovalchuk gets her kicks in Russia

Belle Vernon Area senior Lauren Kovalchuk, in blue, is shown playing for the U.S. Region 1 team against Russia in a game played in Russia recently.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Lauren Kovalchuk has played soccer in a lot of places in her young life.

She has not only been a member of Belle Vernon Area's varsity team, but also played for travel teams as a child and then on Olympic Development Program teams as a teen.

Recently, the BVA senior added a site where even she never thought she would play. — Russia.

Kovalchuk recently returned from a two-week trip to Russia where she played against other European teams as part of an all-star contingent from the United States in the Kuban Spring Invitational Tournament.

The trip to Russia culminated a lengthy, tedious journey for Kovalchuk that began in the summer with the encouragement of her PA West ODP coach, Denny Marzano.

Marzano told Kovalchuk she should attend a camp at the University of Rhode Island for the opportunity to play for a U.S. Region 1 Under-19 team.

The camp is for top female players from the state, as well as Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Rhode Island.

Players try to get picked for a pool of players who, at the end of camp, are selected for a team that would play in either Russia or Portugal.

Kovalchuk made the pool and was selected to play in Russia.

“They asked me to come to the tryout, so I thought I had a chance to make it,” said Kovalchuk, who will attend Stony Brook University (N.Y.) in the fall.

In November, she went to Boca Raton, Fla., for training. On March 2, she traveled to JFK Airport to meet up with the rest of the teammates to travel to Moscow. Ken Kreiger. the father of Ali Kreiger from the U.S. Women's National Team and head coach of USYSA Region 1 ODP U-19 women's team, was their coach for the trip.

They spent two days in Moscow before traveling to Sochi, Russia, where the Kuban tournament was being held.

The two-week trip was more than just playing soccer. It was an experience Kovalchuk said she will never forget.

“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “It was weird having so many people together who spoke different languages. The language barrier was definitely different.

“And the food was different, as was the climate, the buildings we saw. It was just a great, great experience.”

Her Region 1 team won the tournament, playing against teams from Russia, Turkey, Slovakia, Ukraine, Iran, Romania and the Krasnodar Region team, which was one of the hosts.

“For me, probably the most memorable thing was winning the tournament,” Kovalchuk said. “That is something I will never forget.”

Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or

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