A little sense of urgency has led to big things for Kansas soccer goalkeeper Melania Pasar, who, nearly midway through her final season has been a key part of the Jayhawks’ success.
Through the first eight games of the season — which included three shutouts and four one-goal games by KU’s opponents — Pasar has tallied 33 saves while producing a goals-against average of less than one goal per game.
Not all of those saves and low goal totals were the result of her technique. There were other factors in play, as well.
“I think in the offseason I just kind of realized this is going to be my last season here and I just decided that I want to get the most out of it,” Pasar told R1S1 Sports. “I’ve had ups and downs before here, so I just wanted to make this year more consistent so I worked a lot on the mental side.”
The game between her ears and not just between the posts has been critical in Pasar’s hot start.
“I think that has been the biggest improvement that I’ve made,” she said of sharpening her mental approach. “You have to always trust in your abilities and just believe in yourself, because without that you can't really perform your best… I kinda (want) to show everyone that I'm better than what I've shown in the previous years."
Pasar’s road to Kansas began with her wanting to play professionally. But her parents pushed her to seek a higher education.
“That was partly my parents’ wish, to just get a degree,” she said. “If it was up to me, I would probably just try to go pro right away because that’s my plan after I graduate. I want to play professionally.”
The super-senior who hails from Portoroz, Slovenia said the KU coaching staff’s willingness to travel to her home country to recruit her played a big role in her wanting that obligatory education to come smack dab in the middle of the United States.
“The coaching staff was very interested in me, and (KU assistant) Kelly (Miller), my goalkeeper coach, came to see me in Slovenia, too,” she said. “They just showed great interest, more than anyone else, and also their references were really good. They’re all very knowledgeable and I think it was a great decision because I’m a completely different player than I was five years ago, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity they gave me.”
Pasar elected to join the Jayhawks without ever visiting Lawrence.
“I’d just seen pictures and stuff, and it seemed really nice,” she said. “And the team was great when I came here, so everything was just perfect. And it’s still great.”
KU was not the only university recruiting her, but they were the first to do so. That played a meaningful role in helping her make a decision.
“My first Zoom call with a coach was KU, and I kind of knew right away that that’s what I’m going to pick,” Pasar said.
The early days after moving halfway across the world from Slovenia to Kansas were difficult for Pasar.
“Just coming to America was kind of hard at the beginning,” she said. “It’s just a completely different culture, a completely different way of life. But I think it was easy to adjust because I always had good people around me. I just find Americans very nice and very helpful in a way, especially when it comes to foreigners. And my teammates helped me a lot.”
Her teammates, along with her soccer and academic schedules, helped keep her busy in her early days as a Jayhawk, and that, she said, played a huge role in keeping her from being too homesick.
After joining the Jayhawks in 2019, Pasar did not receive much playing time until the 2021 season, when she logged the first five starts of her career and had 22 saves and a shutout to show for it. Pasar was also named to the academic all-Big 12 first team that season.
A year later, in 2022, Pasar enjoyed her true breakout season, starting 15 games while recording 53 saves and four shutouts. She earned Goalkeeper of Week honors during that season and landed on the academic all-Big 12 first team for the second year in a row.
With her final season well under way, Pasar said she was looking forward to getting into the meat of the Big 12 schedule, which will include a few new teams than she has seen in the past.
“I think those teams add quality to this conference,” Pasar said of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. “They’re great teams. We’ve had great teams before, but I think the ones that got added are even better. They’re going to be hard games, but I feel like that puts the conference on a higher level. It’s also helped us to get to a higher level just because you really need to compete against teams like that.”
Pasar’s goals for this year — both for her and her team — are to stay on the path they’re already on, to improve from their last couple of years, to crack the Top 25, finish in the top five in the Big 12 standings and earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Pasar said there’s only one way to achieve those goals, and now that she’s had five years to make Lawrence and her teammates her home away from home, she believes this team is more than capable of achieving all of them.
“Continuing the way we’re going, just keep playing for each other and as a team because I feel like that’s what makes us whole,” she said. “We’re just a very connected team at this point. We’ve worked on it a lot and I think it paid off definitely.”
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