By Vin Gallo
Taylor Conley kept her attention glued to the play as she glided across Stagg Field. “Get to the post,” she thought to herself. “Just get to the post.” As her teammates made their own cuts to the net, Conley got to her spot with plenty of time to spare. The ball skittered across the artificial turf, something that had once been a foreign playing condition for the junior forward. As soon as the ball was within her stick’s flight path, Conley unleashed a quick flick of the wrists. The ball sliced past Emmalie Drake, and once again, as typical of the result from a Conley shot, made an audible ‘bang’ on contact with the wood at the back of the goal.
Conley snapped out of focus and surveyed the field dotted with her teammates garbed in practice pinnies. It was no game. Just preseason, a scrimmage. But Conley was poised to build off of a 2017 sophomore season that saw her finish with five total goals.
“OKAY!” yelled a familiar voice, pleased with the succession of the Springfield College field hockey team’s last few practice runs.
Conley grinned as she looked over, her expectations immediately confirmed when she saw fellow junior, Belle Copponi, fired up and striding back towards the midfield. She was happy that Taylor was being Taylor, right at the start.
After practice, the Pride retreated from Stagg’s heated surface and into the locker room. Upon entrance, Copponi fumbled for the aux cord.
“Hey T-Con!” the Pride forward called out. “This one’s for you!”
With that, the funky electronic beat along with Fetty Wap’s “yaaah baby!” bumped the walls as one of Conley’s favorite rapper’s track of “679” worked its way to the beat drop.
This time, Conley let out a laugh. It was just Belle being Belle.
As the only two juniors on the roster, Conley and Copponi, both as starters, have contributed to the Pride’s offensive production four games into the regular season. The two are responsible for nine of Springfield’s 24 total goals: Conley with six on 15 shots, Copponi with three on 12 shots. When both are riding a hot streak, head coach Melissa Sharpe sees them establishing themselves as one of the most formidable forward duos in the NEWMAC. The Pride’s coach of 15 seasons believes Conley and Copponi have come a long way since their first year with the program and have honed each of their signature skills.
“They seemed real quiet initially [as freshmen], but in both of them we saw some really good skill sets. They’re very different in personality and style of play; Belle’s a little more on the speed side, a lot of movement laterally – Taylor’s a little bit more up and down the field and has a real big hit [on her shot], which we saw quite a bit of [opening] weekend,” Sharpe explained. “The great thing for our team is that they hit it off as friends as much as teammates right away, what they have together is really hard to teach.”
Conley addressed that it took some time to acclimate to the collegiate game.
“My goal coming in as a freshman was just to better my skills because its hard going from high school to college. It’s like a completely different game,” she explained. “In high school I didn’t [play] on turf or anything, so when I came here it was really one of my first times playing on turf, and it was a much faster game, so I wasn’t used to that. It took a while to get used to that change. But the team was really welcoming and I feel like we all meshed together better in college than we did in high school.”
Copponi agreed with Conley’s perspective.
“It’s always hard going from a high school sport to a college sport because you kind of go from being the best, or one of the best player on your high school team to being a freshman who doesn’t know anyone on a college team,” Copponi said.
Both Conley and Copponi were in the same situation entering the program as freshmen. According to senior midfielder Amanda Nusbaum, it was interesting to watch two different games as well as two different personalities become teammates.
“I think they always kind of felt like they were competing with each other for the forward spot on the field initially,” Nusbaum explained. “I think [before they were starters] it was a healthy competition. Their games are very different though, Belle is that work horse and Taylor is that finessing and in-the-right-place kind of player. It’s a competition, but almost not, because they’re two different playing styles.”
Despite competing for time at the same spot, such a scenario didn’t stop Conley and Copponi from forming a friendship.
“I was pretty intimidated by Belle at first,” Conley said with a laugh. “But we’ve become really good friends in three seasons. Her grandmother lives like two minutes away from me on the Cape where I live, our birthdays are a day apart, so we found out we had a lot in common after we got to know each other.”
When it comes to having an influence on the team culture, the two juniors have made sure to make the most out of their time with the Pride. According to Nusbaum, Copponi’s team nickname of “Baddies” has stuck ever since first dubbing Springfield during preseason. The duo of Conley and Copponi have also consistently been a hit at “preseason skits,” a gathering the team hosts every year before the season. Comedy sketches from the two are sure to involve a bevy of dance moves. That is, with last season being the exception, where they ran a routine involving a pie eating contest. Nusbaum said their two different personas is what really helps make the humor.
“They’re just two really funny people,” she said. “Belle and Taylor have almost contradicting personalities. Belle’s super outgoing-funny and then Taylor’s lowkey-funny [and] kind of quiet.”
While they’ve warmed up well to the team over the seasons, neither Conley nor Copponi have become complacent when it comes to bringing a seriousness and competitive brand to the field. Sharpe saw them as “instrumental pieces” in the offense throughout Springfield’s postseason run last year, and expects the same this time around.
“Both of them can be really good playmakers,” Sharpe explained. “They’re consistent, that’s one of the nice things where you can keep them on the field – they’re reliable, and they know the game well enough where they recognize when they need to step up and when we need them to make a big play to get us on the board.”
With six goals scored, Conley has already surpassed her total of five tallied as a sophomore, while also putting home two game-winning goals. Copponi, with three goals is on a track to match her double digit total of 10 goals last season.
“She’s wicked fast and never gives up on the ball,” Conley said of Copponi. “I personally get really down on myself really hard so I kind of learn from her. [Belle] doesn’t get down on herself, she just goes right back out there and usually gets it and scores. She’s hard working, even in the weight room.”
Copponi likewise looks to Conley on the field just as much.
“Taylor is great in front of the net, it always gets in somehow,” Copponi said. “But I feel like her presence [is also important], I look to her as well when I’m on the field, because she knows where she’s supposed to be, she’s always in the right spot. I feel like I need to learn from her in that sense I need to be better with my positioning. I look to Taylor for that.”
Nusbaum has confidence in her junior teammates and believes they are a scoring punch the team needs to venture deep into NEWMAC tournament play in November.
“The fact that they’re able [to push each other] and still be close on and off the field, it’s a very positive thing,” Nusbaum said. “They’re definitely yin and yang personality wise, which is good because I think it helps them work better on the forward line. If they were the same personality and same gameplay then we’d already have one who plays and acts like that, we wouldn’t need another. It’s nice having both, that brings totally different things that can contribute to the team.”