At a young age, former South Carolina women’s soccer midfielder Lauren Chang dreamed of going down either one of two career paths.
“I remember when you make those really bad hand drawings in elementary school and it’s like, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I either wanted to be the president or a professional soccer player,” Chang said.
For now, Chang has chosen the latter option and is embracing her first professional soccer experience with A.C. Sparta Praha in the Czech Republic.
Chang played multiple sports as a child — soccer, basketball and softball — but she fell in love with soccer because of the physicality that came with the sport.
“I loved how tough it was,” Chang said. “It kept me guessing more than other sports."
Chang continued to play at an elite level — sometimes with teammates who were 3 years older — before ultimately deciding to continue her career at South Carolina because of the athletic and academic benefits it provided her.
“I didn’t feel like I had to compromise in any aspect, especially with my education,” Chang said. “Knowing that I could go to a top-10 program in soccer and also the No. 1 public university Honors College in the country — that for me felt like the best of both worlds.”
Head coach Shelley Smith said she was impressed with how quickly Chang adjusted to the college game and made positive contributions to the team’s success.
“She showed she had an ability right away in her first year here to be able to play and to compete and handle the step up to the next level, so that’s a huge credit to her,” Shelley Smith said.
According to Shelly Smith, Chang’s personality and passion made her a valuable leader and mentor for her teammates.
“She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and help others, but she wasn’t someone that’s going to try to push her views or tell you what you should be doing,” Shelley Smith said. “She was very thoughtful, respectful, and helped others, and listened, gave feedback and I think she always had good advice for our players.”
In her time at South Carolina, Chang garnered numerous accolades on the pitch — she was named to three All-SEC teams in her career — but also off the pitch as a SEC Co-Scholar Athlete of the Year during her senior year.
The culmination of Chang’s academic and athletic prowess resulted in her winning the 2022 President’s Award, an honor she said she was grateful and honored to receive.
“I want to be the best that I can be. I want to push myself. I want to do things, and be great and help people,” Chang said. “And I think that was a brilliant way to combine all of the goals that I had coming into it not knowing anything about what the next four-and-a-half years were gonna be like.”
With the goal of playing professional soccer still fresh in her mind, Chang consulted an agent shortly after exhausting her NCAA eligibility and found A.C. Sparta Praha to be the best place for her to take the next step in her career.
“When I heard that A.C. Sparta Praha was interested, I knew that they played in the Champions League, and that’s really something that really sold it to me, and being able to live in such a great European capital like Prague — it checked a lot of boxes for me,” Chang said.
Associate head coach Jamie Smith said the importance Chang placed on “world experiences” — such as traveling to other countries and learning about different cultures from her international teammates — made the club a great fit for her.
“There couldn’t be a more perfect person for that opportunity to be able to go play soccer, travel the world, meet new people, and then, if she continues to improve her game, who knows, maybe come back to the States,” Jamie Smith said.
Chang has shown early indications of success thus far in her professional career, scoring two goals over 575 minutes across 10 professional matches. Despite hitting some roadblocks upon her arrival in Europe last spring, she is looking forward to what next season holds for her.
“The soccer is quite challenging at first,” Chang said. “You always have a learning curve, but now I’m finally feeling like I’ve got a hold of it and six months in, so I’m really excited for our full fall season.”
Chang said she hopes to play soccer for as long as possible before going to law school and becoming a corporate lawyer. In the long run, she dreams of accomplishing something much bigger.
“I want to take over the world … I had to fill out all these things from the Career Center, the (Darla Moore School of Business) and even for athletics, and they’re like, ‘Okay, what do you want to do in like 20 years?' And … 'world domination' is what I wanted to write,” Chang said. “It’s definitely going to happen — just give me some time, that’s all."