Defender Kaeli O’Connor improves footwork to match toughness for Syracuse

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on April 1, 2015 at 9:40 pm Contact Chris: [email protected] | @ChrisLibonati Kaeli O’Connor ran to the end line with her arms extended. She ran through Boston College’s Caroline Margolis and knocked her back a few feet as she toppled onto the ground. The hit prompted BC head coach Acacia Walker to step forward a few steps to yell, “That was hard.”But that is how O’Connor has played this whole season and her whole life. The sophomore has improved her footwork to match her aggressive defense – fellow defender Mallory Vehar, also her buddy in the team’s defensive buddy system, called her “a bulldog” — to fit into Syracuse’s defensive scheme this season. In middle school, O’Connor played football for her father, helping ingrain toughness in her. She’s tied for second on SU with 10 caused turnovers and is tied for third on the team with 16 ground balls. And after playing in just six games last season, O’Connor has started all 12 games this season as one of two defenders on the crease and will play a key role in SU (8-4, 1-2 Atlantic Coast) defending Virginia Tech (6-7, 0-4) on Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Carrier Dome.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“There’s no hesitation. Ball’s on the ground, she’s going to get it,” SU associate head coach Regy Thorpe said. “She’s a pitbull and she wants the ball in her stick.”Since a young age, O’Connor was aggressive. Having two brothers helped her toughen up and her father said she could always hold her own with them. Because she is a long-time Baltimore Ravens fan and her brothers were able to play football for her father in middle school, she decided to play, too. Some parents gawked, but her father Patrick said it was never odd coaching his daughter. She played defensive end for the football team and could match the boys who hadn’t quite peaked physically. Even for her age, she was fast and he had no qualms about her playing a physical sport. Though she stopped playing football, she carried the aggressive mentality to lacrosse. The first time she played in front of Gait when he was recruiting her, she gave a hard foul. It made her father nervous because he knew a scholarship was on the line. But in the end her style meshed perfectly with SU’s system.“The style that Syracuse plays fit her personality and the way she plays. I mean, they’re very aggressive,” Patrick O’Connor said. “They like to play a lot of pressure and that’s the way she likes to play.”But when O’Connor came to SU, three seniors anchored the Orange’s defense. Her aggressive style had to stay on the bench for her first season. O’Connor went to Sweat Performance, a training gym, this summer. Every morning at 6 a.m. she would work with a trainer for an hour.“It was a lot of footwork,” O’Connor said. “It’s what I focused on because that was probably my weak point last year.”At the same time, she participated in a Baltimore-metro summer league that is the equivalent of a pick-up league where players such as Maryland’s Taylor Cummings competed. O’Connor used the league to improve her stick work and build on her aggressiveness and athleticism. This season, that work has shown and she even finished second in the team’s 40-yard dash, Thorpe said. It’s a far cry from where she stood last year, and that might’ve been just because she didn’t realize what she could do.“Last year, I think she kind of didn’t realize her potential,” Vehar said. “This year, I think she came in ready to work, ready to go, learn the defense. She really proved herself since last year.” Commentslast_img

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