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  • Matt Ondesko

Traveling the country

by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor Photos: Geoff Schneider/Sports Union

At an early age, children play sports for the love of the game, or to make new friends. The parents sign them up to give them something to do during the summer. It’s a way to pass the time.

As time goes on, a child may like the sport they are in. Coaches, and their parents, see that there is something special in them and it is time to make a decision. The families have to decide is they are just going to let their child continue with the house route or put them in travel scene.

Playing travel soccer, in this case, means weekends are gone. Instead of going on a family vacation, it’s going to Ohio for a three day soccer tournament. The car takes on the miles as the parents try to help their child realize their child’s dream.

St. Mary’s High School rising sophomore Shae O’Rourke made the decision early to play travel soccer. She got the itch to play soccer from her older sister and played on her team, which was coached by her mom.

While her mom did her best to raise the competition level, it just wasn’t enough. O’Rourke, who was the Sports Union Player of the Year, took her talents to the Western New York Flash, the premier soccer academy in WNY.

You could say that the move paid off O’Rourke and she recently verbally committed to the University of South Carolina.

“Before WNY Flash, I was playing on a travel team with my older sister and my mother was the coach. The level could not be compared to the level with the flash. My mom tried to challenge us, but I wasn’t getting any better playing at that level,” stated O’Rourke. “It’s driven me. The Flash created an environment where soccer is fun but also very competitive. They strived me to push my limits and it’s still happening today. The level of play has challenged my game in a great way. Flash has also helped me through the whole college process and really put my name out there along with my play. I am Extremely grateful for that organization.”

It’s not easy besting a freshman in high school when you already have to decide where you want to go to college. A freshman is just getting used to fitting in their new school and already they have to decide whey they want to go when they turn 18 years old.

The recruiting landscape has changed. Coaches want kids to commit to them now - so they can fill out their classes. It’s tough for a young player to have to focus on where to head off to college, make sure they are getting their grades in high school and still be able to show they play their game on pitch.

“Honestly it’s a hard decision to commit to a school. You have to look at a lot of things. Of course I wanted to walk through the campus, which is gorgeous and lined with palm trees and has a real comfortable /homey feeling,” stated O’Rourke, about her visit to South Carolina. “The coaching staff allowed me to really make that final decision because I was so comfortable talking to them and playing in front of them But, overall it was definitely the vibe you get and I couldn’t say no their offer.”

Knowing where you are going to college can also take some of the added pressure off a player. Being a striker, O’Rourke has enough pressure on her already. Every time she steps on the pitch she is expected to score.

She is expected to lead her team to victory.

“I am a striker, scoring goals is my job. Practice makes perfect like everyone says. I don’t how to explain it, but soccer came naturally to me since I was very young. My teammates also helped me score goals,” stated O’Rourke. “Just being ready, fast , on your toes makes anyone a good forward. Being able to score goals, being creative, and having grit on the pitch. Seeing the opportunities and making sure you finish your job for your team is also important.”

O’Rourke is one of the lucky ones. She gets to play for the one of the best soccer players to ever play in the area in Brittany Heist. The thing that separates Heist from a lot of other coaches, and former players, is that she is a really great person on and off the pitch.

Heist isn’t the type of coach that will yell at her players. She truly cares about every single girl that suits up for her at St. Mary’s of the WNY Flash. She does a lot of team bonding with the players throughout the season.

The fact that she is so laid back and caring makes it easier for players like O’Rourke to join a program like St. Mary’s.

“I never was officially on coach Brittany teams when I was younger, but I played with her team in a tournament or two. Coming in to St. Mary’s with such a good coach made it easier. The best thing about Brittany is she is not only a good coach, she is a good role model and a human being,” stated O’Rourke. “She strives us to be not only a good team, but wants us to become a better person. She not only motivated me to be a better player, but to be a better person. She has help me along the way making my dreams a reality.”

The one dream that has escaped O’Rourke and St. Mary’s so far is the Monsignor Martin title. Despite rolling through the league last season, the Lancers came up short against a very good Nichols team.

St. Mary’s came in as the favorite, but it was solid play by the Vikings that took the title. O’Rourke hasn’t forgotten about what happen last November, and her and the Lancers are looking to get back, and win, the championship this season.

“Losing that game was devastating,” stated O’Rourke. “We had that game in our hands. We have won against them before. We just have to be the team we know we can be. We are motivated for this coming season.”


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