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Former UNF soccer star shines bright at ESPN



Sara Walsh was in her childhood bedroom in New Port Richey, Fla. when she received a life-changing phone call. The UNF graduate was home on a visit and had been looking through newspaper clippings that highlighted her days as a young soccer star. She had just read one in which she had proudly proclaimed she would one day make it to ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports, when her phone rang.      


It was the sports network, offering her a job.


“To have that in writing from so many years ago is pretty cool,” said Walsh, who is now a four-time Emmy winner.


The former soccer star and broadcast major at UNF had realized one of her life ambitions. ESPN hired Walsh in May of 2010 as a sports anchor, and has made regular appearances, anchoring such programs as SportsCenter and SportsNation and has conducted several high-profile interviews with athletes.


Walsh was a member of the inaugural team for the UNF Women’s Soccer program in 1996, just as the University was making the transition from NAIA to a NCAA Division II athletics program. Having been a standout player for Gulf High School in New Port Richey, she said the opportunity to play for a new program at a college like UNF was an attractive offer.


“I liked the facilities, I liked the coach and I just had a good vibe about the place,” she said. “It was exciting to be a part of an inaugural program and to be able to be a part of the program's foundation.”


Walsh still holds several records in UNF Women’s Soccer, including most points – 9 – in a single game, which include combined points from assists and goals, and she also holds the single-game goal record with four goals.


“I looked through an old media guide and it had a picture of her playing. You can just see the intensity she possessed in that photo,” said Kathy Klein, former compliance director for the UNF Athletics Department and current director of Parent and Family Programs at UNF.


Klein still keeps in touch with Walsh, and would do anything to get her back to the University to speak to current student-athletes about life after sports.


“She’s certainly an example of success,” she said.


Walsh made it no secret throughout her college career where her interests lay. She was constantly learning as much as she could about other sports and talking about life after college.


“In my first year at UNF as coach, it was no secret that [broadcast media] was her goal,” said Mike Munch, Walsh’s coach during her junior and senior seasons. “She wanted to be on SportsCenter. Everyone always talks about goals and the things in life they’d like to achieve. It was clear that is what she wanted to do and it’s not surprising to me to see her there now.”


As a student-athlete, a majority of her time was split between soccer and academics, which didn’t leave much time for jobs and internships other broadcast majors were applying for and winning.


“I felt like I was so behind because I couldn’t have a job like that [while a student at UNF],” she said.


In her final year at UNF, Walsh had already completed enough courses to graduate early, but chose to stay to finish her final season. That allowed her to take advantage of the opportunities around town and as soon as her season was over, she was able to procure a position running the telepromtper at a local TV station as well as covering sports for the Beaches Leader.


From there, her career started to progress as she landed jobs in Macon, Ga. and Nashville, Tenn. where she received her four Emmys (for Best Sportscast and Best Sports Event Coverage in 2006 and for Best Sportscast and Best Sports Program/Series in 2005). Walsh moved on to Washington, D.C., where she covered the Washington Redskins for WUSA-TV for four seasons until ESPN came knocking. A lot of hard work went in to getting to ESPN, she said. It certainly didn’t happen as fast as people might think. Walsh said there were a number of years that weren’t easy as she worked her way up in the industry.


Now settled into her career in Connecticut, Walsh said she is taking the time to enjoy the work she is given and won’t take a minute of it for granted.


“It’s definitely surreal,” she said. “I will be in commercial breaks and look around and say, ‘Man, how did I get here?’”