by Matthew Ondesko: Managing Editor
Photos: Binghamton University Athletics
Molly McClelland knows what it’s like to have to transition from a small school to a Division I university and prove herself all over again.
A mainstay on the Allegany-Limestone team in high school, McClelland was all-everything while playing for the Gators. She was a three-time All-State section, including first team Class B as a senior; led her team to four sectional titles; New York State Class C Player of the Year as a sophomore, as she led her team to the state title; finished her career with 61 goals and 92 assists, setting schools records for single-season and career assists.
All that didn’t matter when she arrived on campus as a freshman four years ago. McClelland had to find her way once again, as she became the small fish in the big pond.
“It’s pretty funny, because I was just giving a girl, from my high school, a tour,” stated McClelland. I was telling her how different it was coming from a small school, and playing a sport, it’s crazy. Coming from such a small school, knowing everyone in your class, and coming to such a big school, like Binghamton, and not knowing half the people here. It was very different.”
It took McClelland a little while to get used to the size of the university, and she had to do it during a rough freshman year. Her freshman year was the Covid year where no one knew what was going on in the world.
Colleges were trying to navigate on the fly, as well as student-athletes. For McClelland she was just trying to get her feet whet as she embarked on her college, and athletic, career.”
“I learned to love it,” stated McClelland. Binghamton is the perfect size for me. It was a pretty big transition.”
When you talk to most college athletes, who are making the transition from high school, they will tell you the biggest hurdle they need to get used to is the speed of play. In high school you may be the best player on the field 90 percent of the time.
Many players can just take over the game with their raw talent alone. In college, the pitch is lined with every player, who was the best player on their high school team. It takes time for some players to catch up to the speed of the game, and to all the tactics that are being employed every single game.
“Probably the speed of play is a lot different. You’ll hear that from everyone,” stated McClelland. “The college level is a lot higher, and faster paced.”
It’s just not athletics that is hard for McClelland, she is also majoring in biomedical engineering. Biomedical engineering is the true definition of being a student-athlete. She is trying to juggle everything that comes with being a Division I soccer player, with everything that has to go with her major - as well.
It’s not an easy task, and can get overwhelming at times.
“It’s not easy (my major),” stated McClelland. “Not that high school was a breeze, but it’s a lot different, engineering. All the transition is faster paced. I’ve been doing, and trying, my best.”
McClelland’s college career has been all over the map. The first couple of seasons she appeared in all the games, but only started a couple. Last year, her junior year, was a breakout season and she started 18 of the 19 games in the midfield for the Bearcats.
The biggest reason for McClelland was the confidence in herself. The light flipped on, and the change was there for everyone the see. She found her game again, and it was great for everyone to witness.
“There was a switch that was flipped, and my confidence was so high going into my junior year,” stated McClelland. “I worked my butt off over the summer, and played for FC Buffalo that summer, and the coaches their were amazing. I don’t know, my confidence was just so mush higher, and my touches were on, and I was good on the ball. I worked hard over the summer, and I was giving it 110 percent, and I was doing my best - and controlling what I could control.”
A summer with FC Buffalo might do that for you. McClelland was able to play with some of the best local college players for the entire summer. The FC Buffalo team is made up of mostly Western New York talent. That goes to show how much soccer talent there is in the WNY area.
The fact that McClelland was able to play, and practice with this talent, just made her a better overall player.
“The girls there are amazing,” stated McClelland. “Their first touches are impeccable. Coach Nikki is amazing, she is one of the best coaches I ever had, outside of my WNY Flash coaches. The culture is just so good, and the girls are amazing. The level of play is just so high. I was sad because I couldn’t play with them this past summer, and they did so well. The girls are just amazing, players and people.”
While this is her senior year, McClelland still has a fifth year, Covid year, if she wants to continue with her soccer career or move on to the real world. Either way, McClelland is just trying to soak in everything.
She is soaking it all in, having fun with her girls as the Bearcats fight for an American East title, and a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. As of press time, Binghamton was in first place, one point above Maine.
“I am just trying to make the most of every moment, every practice. As little as it seems, every practice will prepare you for the game,” stated McClelland. “We were so close to winning the American East last season, that I think everyone wants it just a little bit more. I’m just trying to make the most of it, having fun. I’m not trying to get too emotional about it, but I’m working my butt off - go out with a bang. And, hope for the best my final season.”