Czech Star Bound for George Mason in Fall
George Mason-bound Anna Kopecka (left) embraces Czech teammate Anna Dockalova following an FIL World Cup game against Wales. Kopecka spent the last year living with legendary high school coach Kathy Jenkins in the D.C. area.
© Pellerins Photography
PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Anna Kopecka speaks perfect English, with an unremarkable Mid-Atlantic accent. If she claimed to be from Moorestown or Conestoga or Towson, or any one of the towns that regularly churn out Division I women lacrosse players, you'd believe her.
But here at the 2009 FIL World Cup, Kopecka is a hometown girl.
Born and raised in Prague, she spent the 2008-2009 school year
living with famed St. Stephen's and St. Agnes coach Kathy Jenkins
in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. She honed her English and her
lacrosse, and will play for George Mason next season.
"It was the best year of my life. I'm much more self-confident," said Kopecka.
Kopecka's journey to the States began in summer 2007, when she played for the Czech U-19 team in Toronto. Jenkins, the 15-time Independent School League championship coach, issued an open invitation to the Czech team: any player interested in coming to the U.S. could stay with her. Kopecka, 18, took her up on it and arrived in Virginia last fall, with only two years of English lessons and four years of lacrosse practice to her credit.
"I did tennis and skiing, but I wanted to try a team sport. I went to one practice and then got three assists in my first game," said Kopecka.
Those three assists hooked her, and a few years later, she was winging her away to America for a live-in apprenticeship with one of the best high school coaches in the world.
Kopecka's culture shock began on her flight to the States. Stuck in a New York airport on a layover to Washington, she wanted a light, healthy breakfast but was faced with only fast food choices. Ten hours later, she arrived at the Jenkins home starving and discouraged. She still misses Czech-style bread, but she has otherwise taken to life in America, and to English, like a duck to water.
Kopecka ran cross country and indoor track for T.C. Williams (Va.) High School, and played for the Titans and the Capitol Lacrosse Club in the spring. She had to adjust to U.S. rules and to playing against girls who grew up with sticks in their hands, but ultimately it was worth it. Kopecka upped her stick skills and lost the tentativeness that haunted her game.
"I learned to be more aggressive, to just go for the ball," said Kopecka.
Confidence is no small thing in a lacrosse player -- or in any teenage girl, for that matter. Determined to take her game to the next level, Kopecka forged through the bureaucratic maze of American college admissions and NCAA regulations. She decided on George Mason because she liked the Arlington campus, and it will allow her to stay close to the Jenkinses, who she considers a second family.
For now, though, Kopecka is concentrating on the Czech team, which is currently 1-2 in World Cup competition. The chance to play in international competition in her hometown is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"It's amazing. I hear the national anthem and I get goose bumps. And the fans are unbelievable," said Kopecka.
The Czech fans have made a good show in Prague, turning up with drums and flags to cheer on the team in Saturday's 8-4 win over Germany. Czech lacrosse seems to have a bright future, with Kopecka leading the way.