Junior Erin Connolly sports a grey Wisconsin sweatshirt with red lettering and pajama pants, despite the unseasonably warm temperatures for October, as we sit down to talk. Shortly after the interview, Connolly had to get on the road to Chicago, for a game this weekend. Her right eye twitched slightly, which she described simply as a quirk of her anxious, can’t-sit-still personality. She plays soccer for St. Louis Scott Gallagher, in the ECNL league. Connolly committed to the University of Wisconsin to play soccer and study, back in September.
Connolly is the youngest of four children, all born within a three year span and all soccer players. “They definitely influenced me. My sisters were huge to me, I was always their number and stuff. They were big influences, and my brother was very competitive as well,” said Connolly. Her older brother is currently attempting to play on a semi-professional team.
Connolly began playing soccer in preschool, progressing to a club team by first grade. “I used to play on a really low team actually. It was just for fun. We would have candy after practice. Then I switched to this team,” said Connolly.
Connolly’s team this year is a mix of juniors and seniors, or 03’s and 04’s in soccer terms. With over 20 girls on the roster, competition for playing time is fierce. Much of that comes from their English coach, Ralph Richards, who has a deep knowledge of the sport. “He’s helped a ton, so he’s really intense too. He used to be a college coach so he knows everybody,” said Connolly.
The travel schedule is relentless, with one weekend per month off during the intense period of the season. In the two days after our interview, Connolly has one game in Chicago and then one in Wisconsin.
For the most part, games are in the Midwest, with driving time kept under 8 hours. However, 4 times a year, Connolly plays a showcase game in a larger, often coastal city. “I miss homecoming like every year, but it is what it is,” said Connolly.
June 15th of the summer before a player’s junior year is when scouting can truly begin. Players are flooded with phone calls from coaches and are under intense pressure and scrutiny of their playing abilities. “The first month of school, I missed more classes than I went to,” said Connolly. Numerous college visits, meetings with coaches and relationship building filled Connolly’s summer and fall. But she ultimately chose the University of Wisconsin.
College isn’t just about soccer, Connolly also has to balance her grueling training schedule with the rigorous academics of Clayton High School. Homework and schoolwork are tough to fit in with hours a day of soccer training and drives out to Soccer Park. Her freshman year schedule was tight, with school, homework during lunch, a quick stop at home for some food, practice and then more homework. “It’s harder but I just learned to make really good connections with my teachers, so then they are understanding,” said Connolly, “I love the math department. They’ve helped me a lot with organizing stuff.” Connolly utilizes her time management skills, rarely hanging out with friends during the week, and prioritizing what is most important.
Committing to a college during the fall of one’s junior year is unusual to say the least. It relieves some of the typical pressures of junior and senior year with standardized testing and applying to college. However, it can also come with a lack of motivation to work hard in school. “I thought it was going to be a lot better than it is, that school wouldn’t be stressful anymore, but there’s still a constant stress of ‘what am I going to do with my future?’,” said Connolly, “It’s also been hard because I just don’t care about school anymore. I’m actually trying to graduate early.”
“It’s also been hard because I just don’t care about school anymore. I’m actually trying to graduate early.”
— Erin Connolly
Despite her incredible skill, Connolly has never played for the CHS girls soccer team. Each spring, Connolly plays on a co-ed team, in a more competitive environment than the CHS team. “I would love to do it one year, I always say I’m going to do it. Maybe this year since I’m committed, there’s a higher chance,” said Connolly.
Connolly has been in the School District of Clayton since Kindergarten, attending Captain Elementary and Wydown Middle School as well as CHS.She also has been playing with many of the same teammates since seventh grade, and only has a bit more time left playing club soccer.
“I already tear up all the time, because I practically live at soccer park. I go straight from school and do homework, eat, there’s couches and sometimes I sleep in there. I’m there constantly, it’s like a second home,” said Connolly, “I’m very sad and stressed about leaving that environment, but I know I’m going to have so much fun at Wisconsin. It’s bittersweet.”
Playing a sport in college can be an intense experience, especially at a Division 1 school like Wisconsin. The discipline to follow a strict schedule to handle all of one’s responsibilities is important. “I’m excited to be independent. I love my family but I think it’s important to get the experience of living on my own,” said Connolly.
Connolly has been attending soccer camps and tournaments at Wisconsin since she was in 6th grade. She was attracted to the positive environment, well-regarded academics and sense of motivation among the students. “I love the environment. Everyone at Wisconsin is happy to be at Wisconsin,” said Connolly.
A shy smile developed on her face when asked about her plans for soccer after college. “Yes, I am 100 percent wanting to play in the NWSL or over in Europe. That’s why I would want to graduate early, because that already helps you go beyond college. So yes, I’m definitely planning to go pro,” said Connolly.
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