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PHOTO BY DAVE HENRICKSON

Born into an equestrian family in Orlean, recent Highland School graduate Sterling Colgan will play lacrosse at University of Mary Washington and study to be a veterinarian.

 

Who knew all those years riding horses were setting Sterling Colgan up for greatness in soccer and lacrosse?

Competing in equestrian events and foxhunting was perfect cross-training for Colgan’s high school sports career, which closed with the Orlean 18-year-old earning honors as the Fauquier Times 2020 Highland School Boys Athlete of the Year.

He attributes riding horses for building powerful leg muscles. “That’s why I can kick it so far,” he says about the 55-yard free kicks he’d unleash in soccer.

Colgan earned Delaney Athletic Conference honors in both soccer and lacrosse. He played lacrosse as a sophomore and junior, missing out his senior year due to the pandemic, and shined in soccer all three years he was at Highland. He’ll play lacrosse at the University of Mary Washington.

Although Colgan only rides for fun now, he can’t escape his roots.

Colgan grew up on his family’s farm in Orlean. His grandfather Edwin was a thoroughbred horse owner, mother Dawn was a steeplechase jockey, and dad Tim has been around horses all his life. His sister Ainsley, 14, is an avid eventer and three-sport athlete at Highland.

The discipline of competing in equestrian events, plus the unpredictable aspect of jumping gave him a perspective that also translated to a rugged sport like lacrosse. “I enjoy being physical. I’ve been thrown off horses my entire life,” said Colgan.

His equestrian résumé includes foxhunting with Old Dominion, and participation in eventing, dressage and polocrosse.

“Riding a horse mainly involves using your legs. It may not look like it, but most of the commands and direction come from the legs. Your hands are used just to steer. Your legs give the commands, and the non-verbal commands,” he said. “Your calves, quads, all of it get used.”

Although soccer was his first sport, Colgan embraced lacrosse while attending Wakefield Country Day School near Flint Hill. He played varsity in eighth grade, but Wakefield Country Day did not field lacrosse his freshman year, leading him to transfer to Highland as a sophomore to play for coach Rich Klares, who coached Colgan in youth lacrosse and more recently on the Battle Lax travel club program.

“Coach Klares is one of my closest coaches. He’s guided me in lacrosse and life,” Colgan said. 

Highland won the DAC title in Colgan’s first year at Highland in 2018. “I played quite a bit, especially as the new kid,” he said.

As a midfielder, he’d bring the ball into the forward zone and try to set up other teammates. That role expanded as a junior when he took more responsibility, often holding the ball longer as he surveyed the field and taking it deeper into the rival zone, where he added more goals and assists.

He was set to do even more as a senior. Highland played just one game before the COVID outbreak, downing Tandem Friends 16-0. Colgan scored twice in that game and had numerous assists and ground balls, even while sporting an injured shoulder.

“He was getting open that easy as a senior,” said Klares, who says Colgan progressed into a major impact player. “He’s developed into a guy on offense that would have been an absolute terror to try to guard. You had to gameplan for him.”

Colgan never posted big scoring stats, but was more of the setup man.

“A lot of things Sterling does, few guys do. He scoops up ground balls, makes the extra pass by dodging a double team,” said Klares. 

Klares said that unlike in ice hockey, extra assists aren’t awarded in lacrosse for a player making a pass that sets up the pass that leads to a goal. “He was the hockey assist guy doing all the grunt work, knowing it had to get done. He embraced that role.”

Colgan said he was crushed by the loss of his senior year, but also kept it in perspective. “In the wider aspect, I was happy we didn’t play. I’d rather have everyone be safe,” he said.

His soccer career dates back to second grade, when he began playing for the Warrenton Youth Soccer Club (WYSC). He played varsity soccer at Wakefield Country Day in eighth and ninth, then all three years at Highland.

After an early season concussion in his first season at Highland, he returned to play the last half of his sophomore year, then excelled as a junior and senior. He was a first team all-DAC as a senior and second team all-DAC as a junior. He was one of the team captains and received the Coach's Award his senior year.

Although Colgan was a center back holding the defense together, he was also an offensive instigator thanks to his howitzer of a right leg. “It was sort of a semi line drive so teammates can read where it’s going. On long free kicks I’m pretty accurate: I can put it at someone’s feet or chest,” he said.

The crowning confirmation of this skill was his 55-yard goal against Trinity Christian to tie the score and send the game into penalty kicks in the 2019 DAC championship game. Colgan said the goalie came out, anticipating a shot 10 yards shorter, allowing the ball to soar into the upper part of the goal for a spectacular strike. It was the third long distance goal of his career, something uncommon for defenders.

Colgan’s current focus is preparing for lacrosse and his studies at Mary Washington. He’s been lifting weights and says he’s 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, up from 5-10, 160 as a sophomore.

He wants to be a veterinarian, a pursuit that traces to his farm upbringing. “I grew up around a lot of vets. To be a vet you need social skills, I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun with it.”

He’ll likely study biology, then attack four years of vet school, which includes a year-long required internship. “The schooling is tough. Getting into vet school is insanely hard,” he said. 

He hasn’t decided whether he wants to work with large or small animals, but we know what 1,000-pound animals he knows a lot about.

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