by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor
Photos: Geoff Schneider/Sports Union
Emma Connors didn’t really know what to expect as she entered her junior year for the Mount. Mercy Academy soccer team. Connors was entering the year with a new coach in Maddie Higgins, and a new positions.
In her first couple of seasons, Connors was playing in an outside midfield role, making her runs down the wing - and supporting the defense on her way back. This season she made the switch to help lead a solid back line for the Magic - which won a share of the Monsignor Martin Class B title.
Her play also earned her first team All-Catholic honors. Not bad for a player that never played defense before.
“It is actually my first year, for Mount Mercy, playing on the defensive line every single game. In previous years I would play outside mid, so at first, I didn't know how to feel about the big change but it honestly wasn’t bad at all. I warmed up to my new position really fast and I started to love it,” stated Connors. “I knew coming in that the offensive players on the other team had speed and skill, but knowing this I was able to train and condition myself to keep up with them. I felt a lot of pressure on my shoulders to keep the opposing team away from my goalie. I did my best to live up to everyone's expectations. While I am on the field I block out outside noise and just focus on the game.
One of the biggest adjustments Connors had to make was being able to stay on the field for an entire 80 minutes. When playing in the midfield, there are times a player will be subbed off to get a quick breather.
Not so much when you play defense. The defenders are usually on the field for the entire 80 minutes, grinding after every ball. The physical play can also take a toll on a player - especially if they aren’t conditioned to play the entire game.
To that end, practice wasn’t easy. A lot of high school coaches will make sure players get their conditioning in. Higgins had her team run anywhere from two to three miles during the week just so they could be ready to play a full 80 minutes.
“We practiced every day after school and Coach Higgs conditioned us with running 2-3 miles at least once a week. This helped my endurance and my performance on the field by being able to play the whole game and play my best the whole game,” stated Connors. “When playing the full 80 minutes you need to be mentally and physically ready to play, even if that is talking to yourself during the game or getting the chance to stretch and keep your muscles in good shape before the next game.”
It’s not like Connors isn’t a conditioned athlete. The junior also plays lacrosse for the Magic. While it is a different sport all together, it still allows for Connors to get her works in. Like most student-athletes, Connors doesn’t have an offseason.
She went right back to training as soon as the season was over. While she doesn’t play basketball, like most of the girls at the school, Connors still makes sure she gets her work in, whether that is walking her dog or just getting touches on the ball.
“I don’t let my training and conditioning go to waste during the offseason. I try my best to keep myself moving in between soccer and lacrosse. Even if I just go for a walk with my dog I am still moving and staying healthy,” stated Connors. “During the offseason, I would like to improve on my speed. In the summer I would like to get together with some people from my team and practice our skill training. My coach for Mercy is actually my coach for summer travel soccer so that will help with my skill as well and improve on it.”
It has been a year of accomplishments for Connors. Not only was she a first team All-Catholic. Connors was also part of the first Mercy team to win a soccer championship. While the banner will say co-champs, it’s still the first time in the history of the program that the Magic have won a soccer title.
They have come close many of times in the past - including when they played in the Class A division, while facing off with the likes of Nardin, Nichols and Sacred Heart. Being able to win a title allows the team to build a solid foundation for the future.
Having Higgins as their coach is also a right fit. She comes from the coaching tree of John Glose, who led the Magic to a lot of success on the pitch and hardwood during his time at the school.
“Higgs always told us to play with our hearts and go on the field having something in our hearts that will make us want to win and give us that extra step in winning. Higgs is our biggest supporter and she always knows how to say the right thing; f that is getting our head in the game or telling us we are doing an amazing job and she is proud of us. She always makes me feel happy with my performance on the field and will never bring any of us down about ourselves, ever,” stated Connors. “It feels great to finally get this win for Mercy. I love this school, I love my team and I can’t wait to see the banner hang in the gym.”