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O’Rourke’s competitive edge

by Matthew Ondesko: Managing Editor

Photos: South Carolina Athletics

Freshman aren’t supposed to come in and have the kind of year that South Carolina’s Shae O’Rourke had last season.

While she started only four games, but played in all 24, O’Rourke was an immediate impact every time she stepped on the pitch. She was a standout rookie for the Gamecocks as she was second among freshman in total minutes; second on the team in goals; second on the team in points; second in shots, third in assists; and led the team in shots on goal percentage.

O’Rourke was doing all this while she was still getting acclimated to college life, and to life in the Southeastern Conference (SEC).

“College is a lot more different from high school,” stated O’Rourke. “It’s a lot more competitive.”

But, success is something that O’Rourke is used to. The Wheatfield product had an amazing four-year career at St. Mary’s of Lancaster. While there, O’Rourke was named the Gatorade New York Girls Soccer Player of the Year, after she scored 39 goals during her senior season. The accolades kept coming as she was also named USA Today New York State Female Athlete of the Year, USA Today New York State Soccer Player of the Year and All-American.

In all, O’Rourke scored an amazing 135 goals, while dishing out 43 assists. She helped St. Mary’s to the Monsignor Martin title in both 2019 and 2021. Her time at St. Mary’s helped shape her life both on and off the pitch, and made her the person she is today.

She also credits the Western New York Flash, WNY’s premier travel team, for getting her where she is today. Playing for the travel team, against some of the top teams in the country, helped O’Rourke find out what kind of player she was - and the type she wanted to become.

When you are going up against the best every day in practice, then again during travel games on the weekend, it helps you become the player that everyone thinks you can be.

“Flash is a really competitive program,” stated O’Rourke. “With our coaching staff, and the team that we had, it really prepared me for the competitiveness of college. “Obviously, everybody has to learn. Having Brittany Heist from Flash into high school, I still had that amazing coaching. Not even amazing, but that competitive fire that you need to have in college.”

Being able to have Heist for much of her career really helped O’Rourke. During her time on the pitch, Heist was a fiery competitor at Lancaster High School. She got everything out of her game, and that translated when she went on to play Division I at Boston University.

For someone like O’Rourke, having Heist there to help her through the recruiting process, and to see how tough it is to play DI, was just added help as she was navigating through the process.

“Having that close coach connection really will help you later in life,” stated O’Rourke. “Because, she knew that experience that I was going through , and she always knew when to boost you up. And, she knew when to drive you during the game. She always looked out for what was best for me personally.”

While last season looked like O’Rourke had been playing in the SEC for a couple of years, it still was her first season of playing major college soccer. There still was that transition period that all freshmen had to make coming from the high school level.

The first big transition was coming off the bench to play. O’Rourke was used to playing every minute of every game at St. Mary’s. At South Carolina she needed to earn those minutes once again.

The second transition was the speed of the game. In most games in high school, O’Rourke was the best player on the field. The game was slower for her in high school, because she was so dominating.

In college everyone who’s playing was the best player on their high school tram. So, the speed of the game was bumped up a lot quicker than what she was used to in the Monsignor Martin. However, once she was able to get used to the speed, the rest was history.

“The quickness of the game (was the biggest transition),” stated O’Rourke. “Also, I’m a forward, I was just used to getting the ball and running. I didn’t know how much strategy there was in the game. I had to learn each team, and what they do, and how your team together can work. I feel like high school, and Flash, it was just going out and playing, but in college you always have to have a game plan.”

Coming off a freshman campaign like O’Rourke did there is always that pressure to have an even better year the next time out. Being a forward, O’Rourke is used to the pressure. She puts pressure on herself every time she steps on the pitch.

Every time she’s out there, O’Rourke wants to be the best version of herself. She has the potential to be great, and she doesn’t she away from it.

“I think I do put the pressure on me, because I think it is important to realize that you have that potential to do more,” stated O’Rourke. “You have that fire to keep you going, because you know you are capable of things. I just want to make sure that I keep improving for the team. I think I can do more than last year, for sure.”

Being a forward, the big thing is having confidence in yourself that you can go out there and score every time you touch the ball. Without confidence, a player is nothing. The fact that O’Rourke was able to get off to a great start helped her for the rest of the last season, and this season - as she has scored six goals so far.

“Confidence comes with learning how to play with the team,” stated O’Rourke. “When you have the confidence you can always play better with the team. I think that really helped, not only me, but the team in general.”

Some people are able to thrive under pressure. O’Rourke did score a 135 goal in high school. She wants the ball at her feet in crunch time. She wants to be the one that everyone goes to with the game on the line.

She doesn’t shy away from the pressure that comes with scoring goals. She embraces it.

“I like the pressure,” stated O’Rourke. I mean, I feel like that I had that my entire life. I’m a forward, I need to score, I want to score. It’s important to know that you don’t need to score in every college game, but at least you are making a difference in every college game. I went from scoring two goals a game (in high school) to zero, but knowing that you have that fire to score more goals. I use pressure to fuel me.”

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