By Gabby Guerard
A loud boom echoed across Stagg Field as freshman field hockey player Taylor Conley launched a shot that smashed the back of the net with authority. The referee blew the whistle and directed her arms from the net towards center field, officially signaling the goal.
The players on the sideline threw their fists into the air and cheered in celebration. The crowd roared with enthusiasm. No one was more excited than Conley, as her teammates rushed over and surrounded her with high-fives and and hugs. This electric moment may have been brief, but it was only foreshadowing what was yet to come: her identity as the lead scorer.
Having started every game and scored 12 goals, Conley is off to a phenomenal start in her first season with the Pride. However, just a few years ago she never would’ve dreamed that this sensational season would be a reality.
It was sophomore year at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School in Yarmouth Port Massachusetts when Conley faced an enormous challenge: she was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis in both of her feet.
Plantar fasciitis is when there is an inflamed thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toe, and it is excruciatingly painful. Naturally, this is devastating to any athlete, and it was doubled in Conley’s case.
Yet rather than dwell on this heartbreaking news and accept defeat, she chose to square up and take it one vs. one, determined to reign victorious.
The following year, Conley began physical therapy where she underwent hours of hard work and battled through intense pain. In the end, she benefited in more ways than one; in addition to improved feet, the aspiring field hockey star stumbled upon an interest in the physical therapy world. It wasn’t long before an internship at Spalding Rehabilitation sealed the deal, and inspired her to decide to major in physical therapy.
Flash forward to senior year, where her improved feet set her up for great success during her final season on the field hockey field. Although Conley had no plans on continuing her career at the collegiate level, head coach, Mary O’Connor did.
“It was surprisingly very last minute,” Conley recalls. “I went through my full senior year, and then I had an end of the year meeting with my coach and she urged, ‘You should definitely play in college. You’re going to miss it,’ and I was like, ‘I know, I just don’t know if I can balance it while studying PT.’”
O’Connor had other plans.
As a former Springfield College student herself, O’Connor knew what a great physical therapy program the school had in addition to a field hockey program. Seemingly a perfect fit, she strongly encouraged Conley to reach out to Pride head coach Melissa Sharpe and pursue a future at Springfield.
To take it one step further, O’Connor mentioned Jill Macdonald – another South Yarmouth native – who happened to be playing field hockey at Springfield College and studying physical therapy – precisely what Conley aspired to do. That was when she made the last second decision to come play at Springfield College, and given her unrivaled success, it’s hard to even consider what it would be like if she hadn’t taken her high school coach’s advice.
Transitioning to the collegiate level is difficult for any athlete, and this was no different for Conley.
“It was a lot harder than I expected, especially because my high school has a grass field, so we only played on turf for a few away games,” she explained. “Going from bumpy grass to beautiful turf was a much faster game.”
Unlike other sports, the game of field hockey can change dramatically depending on the playing surface. This is due to the fact that a field hockey ball is significantly small, and remains on the ground for the vast majority of the game, so anything from a slight divot in the ground or even long, uncut grass can throw off the entire game.
Nonetheless, Conley relied on her repertoire of skills and adapted to the brand new turf on Stagg Field.
Having been deemed a starter since September, Conley has exceeded all expectations.
“I didn’t really expect to get as much playing time as I have been,” she stated. “I knew that coach was looking for forwards, so I thought I would get some playing time, but I didn’t think I’d be starting every game.”
Although Conley may not have anticipated her early success, Sharpe noticed her dazzling skills instantly.
“Taylor has been an offensive threat for us since the start of the season,” Sharpe explained. “Taylor’s biggest strength in my opinion is her ‘finishing touch’. She has that natural ability to place herself well on the field in positions to score and is able to get a touch on direct shots and loose balls in the circle.”
Sharpe isn’t the only one who’s noticed Conley’s finishing touch.
“Teams have already noticed her ability to score and she has already been man-marked and double-teamed in several games with the opponents’ hopes of stopping her from scoring,” Sharpe indicated.
Although she’s faced challenges like being double-teamed, Conley refuses to accept defeat. Considering she’s scored 12 goals in 12 games thus far, her talent is unstoppable.
As the season approaches its final weeks of competition, the Pride will continue to rely on Conley to finish the ball in the back of the net. Her scoring efforts have tremendously lead the team, and with a first year performance this strong, there’s no saying as to what she’ll accomplish throughout the remainder of her career here at Springfield College.