Before asking five people close to Marcy Barberic to describe her path to greatness during her University at Buffalo soccer career, the answers seemed predictable. She's become a better finisher and developed a killer instinct. She's become more deceptive in the attacking third, keeping defenders – of which there are many trying to contain her – on their heels, or in some cases, on their butts.
Amusingly, not one of those answers was given.
Barberic, the second Bull to earn All-American status and be listed on the Hermann Trophy watch list, has vaulted her name among college's best through her drive and focus. Not her thunderous right foot or perfection from the penalty spot, but her intrinsic, unrelenting commitment to her craft.
"Marcy is one of the most hardworking players I've ever played with," said Gianna Yurchak, Barberic's roommate for four years and Bulls co-captain for two. "She's just so determined. Her drive is a big part how she rises above others."
Carissima Cutrona, the former UB star who played with Barberic for three years plus last summer with FC Buffalo Women, echoed Yurchak.
"Everyone is seeing the final product play out now, but behind all of the success she is having are many hours of hard work," Cutrona said. "That constant drive to succeed has kept her hungry to achieve more, and I know all of the extra training she has put in throughout the last couple years to get to this point."
That final product has caught the nation's attention while taking UB to the precipice of a Mid-American Conference title in the spring and now vaulting the Bulls to a 6-1 record so far this fall. Barberic leads the side in goals, with seven in as many games, punctuating the nonconference slate with the eventual game-winning goal against UConn, a high-major program from the Big East. MAC play begins on the road Sept. 23 against Ohio, with the first home match at noon Sept. 26 at UB Stadium against formidable Kent State (4-3).
A lead-by-example type, the product of Grand Island High School and Western New York Flash Academy has never missed a match in her college career – despite playing a position that invites heavy tackles – and, thanks to the funky Covid season and extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA, will likely hold the program record for most matches started.
UB head coach Shawn Burke and associate head coach Casey Derkacz have witnessed Barberic's drive since fall 2017, when she forced her way into a starting lineup crowded with attackers by adjusting to fullback and holding midfielder roles. Then, the goal-oriented Barberic was just embarking on a challenge she set in front of herself upon arriving in Amherst: make an impact in each year of her career at UB and leave a mark on the program.
Those personal ambitions dovetailed with the coaching staff's emphasis on cultivating a "championship mindset," a mantra that pops up regularly in postgame interview.
"She's not satisfied – she came here to Buffalo on a mission and wants to prove herself and make a name," said Burke after the Bulls beat Niagara earlier this season. "She's internally motivated; it's not like she slacks in practice and is like 'I'm an All-American, I'm really big-time around here.' When your captain and best player is the hardest worker in training, everything falls into place. She has high aspirations, she wants it."
"She's had a thirst to want to get better every year – constant training even outside of normal training hours – and she absolutely hates to lose," Derkacz added. "Even small-sided things in training, she just hates to lose."
Drive and focus share considerable overlap. If drive is defined by the unquenched thirst for success and a willingness to do whatever it takes to reach a goal, then focus is the mental consistency needed to channel the drive in the right direction. Barberic's elite level of focus is evident – and maybe even a little bewildering – to spectators. On the field, she doesn't show much emotion – positive or negative – and doesn't always celebrate after scoring. It's all business.
Yurchak, an attacker like Barberic, admires another trait in her teammate that, at least in soccer terms, is an extension of focus. "She has a quick memory," Yurchak said. "With shots, she misses one and forgets about it right away. She's just off to the next one."
Teammates and friends note Barberic's quirks; she drinks a sugar-free Monster Energy drink before every match, which supplies an extra jolt, dials in her focus and leaves those around her wondering how she avoids the excess caffeine jitters. (If you ask Barberic, the Monster is offset by fresh fruit – usually raspberries – and a blend of Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band and motivational podcasts, that are also musts in her pregame ritual).
The approaching conclusion to her college career has shifted Barberic's perspective as she and the Bulls embark on a daunting conference slate.
"Last spring and my past four years here, I've just always focused on what accolades I can receive and how many goals can I score, but I think this year my mindset has shifted a little bit to 'how can I be the best teammate?' for my last year here," Barberic said following an early- eason defeat of Niagara.
"Her passion and dedication to improve her game has grown over the years not only for herself, but also for her team," said Barberic's mother, Shirley. "One time a couple years ago I asked her how the team did over the weekend. She replied, 'It's not the team mom, it's MY team.' All the lessons learned on the field have helped her to be a good soccer player, but more importantly a great teammate and friend."
Barberic's drive and focus converge on one goal during the final stretch of her final year on campus: the NCAA Tournament. When Burke said this group of Bulls has never experienced the taste of winning, that includes Barberic, who arrived on campus two years after UB claimed its only Mid-American Conference title and NCAA Tournament berth. She knows this fall is her last chance.
"I've been part of a soccer team since I was 5 years old, and after this season I don't think I'll have the opportunity to play at this competitive level again," Barberic said.