How it started vs how it's going...Cromwell's dynamic duo of Aubrey Kulpa and Mary Kate Sullivan started playing soccer together in grade school eight years ago and recently celebrated a national championship with the U-17 Oakwood Soccer Club team on July 10
Mary Kate Sullivan and Aubrey Kulpa have been playing soccer together for nearly a decade.
Fittingly, their final season as teammates yielded championship results.
The pair, who have both grown up in Cromwell, were members of the Oakwood Soccer Club U17 team that won the Girls Academy (GA) National Championship on June 10 in St. Louis, Missouri.
“Our team dynamic is amazing,” said Sullivan, a team captain. “We all had the same goal and wanted to do it for each other.”
Kulpa added, “We are a family on and off the field and we knew going in whatever happened we did it together.”
Following a 1st place finish in the GA Northeast Conference, Oakwood went to California and won three playoff games to reach the knockout stage in St. Louis. There they would defeat TSJ FC Virginia in the quarterfinals and Lonestar SC in the semifinals before ending the championship run with a 1-0 redemption win over Florida United in the title tilt.
Kulpa scored the lone goal in the title game, stealing a pass in the first half and beating the keeper on a breakaway.
Following the title, Kulpa was named the National Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP).
“Going into that game [the MVP] wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted to win first, but it was awesome to get it afterwards,” Kulpa said. “It was a great feeling. I know how hard I’ve worked.”
Head coach Chris Mogavero said Kulpa was unselfish on the field with the ability to strike quickly with either foot.
“She sees the game on the ball and off the ball,” added Mogavero, “She has created just as many goals for others as she has scored herself.”
Kulpa also scored in the semifinals match before exiting the game with a calf injury. With some rest — and help of her best friend — she was ready to go by the time the championship game rolled around.
Sullivan suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the playoff stage in California. She spent the rest of the championship run as a supportive spectator, coach of the sidelines, and player-turned-physical therapist.
“I did a lot of stretching of calves,” joked Sullivan, who added that the championship was the result of years of hard work. “I saw how hard everyone was working and how the whole team wanted it. It was crazy and so surreal.”
Mogavero called Sullivan a “great leader and advocate for the rest of the team” who was supportive and helped team morale from the sidelines.
“She goes as hard as she can all the time. She is willing to play any position,” added Mogavero. “She does a lot of the dirty work defensively as a forward as far as attacking the ball and pressuring opponents.”
The victory over Florida United was memorable for several reasons. The Sunshine State team had previously beaten Oakwood in March in the GA Champions League finalist match and in a consolation round a year ago.
The third time was a charm as Oakwood knocked off their nemesis from the south to bring the trophy back to Connecticut.
Being a part of a national championship club is a dream come true for Sullivan and Kulpa, who first met each other in grade school during youth soccer.
Sullivan recalled Kulpa scoring in a game in 2014 and running out to give her a hug.
After that initial embrace, the two have become nearly inseparable on and off the field.
Both attend Cromwell High School and Sullivan said they were both previously “ballers”, playing basketball as underclassmen before choosing to focus solely on soccer.
Sullivan, who will be a senior at the high school this year, has already committed to play soccer collegiately at Indiana University starting in the fall of 2024.
“The culture is like nothing I have ever seen before. I didn’t realize how good the culture was until I was on campus. The coaches are amazing,” said Sullivan, who recently visited the home of the Hoosiers in Bloomington.
Sullivan added that she looks forward to the challenges of college soccer, adding, “One thing I love about soccer is you can keep getting better and there is so much to the game. With the knowledge my coaches have I think they will be able to push me and get me to that next level. I would love to be able to compete for a Big-10 title.”
Kulpa will be entering her junior year at CHS.
This fall the two will practice together at Oakwood, but the championship game may have been their last as a duo.
Sullivan referred to the pair as the “dynamic duo” and Kulpa said they can read each other’s minds.
“It is going to be very sad. She’s my buddy. It’s going to be hard, but I know she’s off doing her thing” added Kulpa, who has yet to decide where she will play college soccer. “But maybe we’ll meet one day in the Big-10.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin