As Katie Reilly pondered her athletic future early in her Princeton High career, she made a critical decision.
“I knew I wanted to play either college lacrosse or college soccer,” said Reilly.
“In my sophomore year, I decided to focus on college lacrosse. I realized that there was a lot of competition in soccer; it is a sport that has been around longer. I realized that I was really passionate about lacrosse.”
Reilly’s passionate play during her PHS career helped her earn a spot on Amherst College women’s lacrosse team.
“I narrowed it down to the NESCAC [New England Small College Athletic Conference] I thought it was a really exciting league,” said Reilly, who kept playing soccer at PHS and was a star defender for the program.
“There is no team that dominates, the games are really close. I did a one-day clinic at Amherst. It wasn’t really on my radar at the time; I really liked the campus and the coaches. The clinic was mainly coached by players and they talked to us a lot. I really liked them and I could see they had goals similar to mine.”
On March 19, Reilly achieved a major goal as she made her first college appearance, coming on as a substitute defender for Amherst in its 11-8 win at Swarthmore.
“It was so exciting; it was so different from high school,” recalled Reilly. “I was thinking I am an NCAA college athlete now. I was nervous and excited at the same time. I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off for a few minutes and then I realized it is just a lacrosse game. The first game I played was a night game; I never played one at Princeton so that was a little different.”
For Reilly, getting ready for her debut entailed more than a little adjustment, starting with fall ball training.
“We had a few meetings with the coach but she was not allowed to be on the field with us,” said Reilly.
“We practiced two or three times a week, usually Tuesday or Thursday and sometimes on Saturday because we could get the turf field when soccer or field hockey was away. We did sprinting and lifting three times a week. There is a smaller group in the fall because some juniors were on a semester abroad and others play soccer or field hockey. It was a good chance to get to know my classmates and the captains.”
Once preseason practices rolled around, Reilly had to lift the level of her game.
“It started in February, it was nice and cold,” said Reilly with a laugh.
“It was a whole new ballgame; the practices were longer and the coaches were there. The game was a lot faster. There was a lot to learn, especially on defense. We had one defense in high school; we have five defensive patterns at Amherst. There are three coaches so you can work on your game individually and stay after practice to do extra work. The older players helped so much, they were talking to you on the field.”
Having former PHS teammate and longtime friend Mia Haughton also going through her freshman season at Amherst was a big help for Reilly.
“It is nice to have someone to talk to,” said Reilly. “We have played together so long, since fourth or fifth grade in soccer and sixth grade in lacrosse. It was good to have someone who I can always find on the field.”
In reflecting on her five appearances this spring for Amherst, Reilly pointed to the team’s 18-8 win over Elizabethtown College (Pa.) as a highlight.
“When we played against Elizabethtown, we got a bigger lead and I got in earlier,” said Reilly, who was credited with one ground ball and one shot on the season.
“The defensive line was all freshmen at one point. One of the other freshmen scored her first goal; I felt like the freshmen really made their mark.”
While Amherst went 9-6 and didn’t make the NCAA tournament, Reilly believes the squad can make a mark next spring.
“We talked about it after the season; we wished we could have gone further,” said Reilly.
“We wished we could have won some of the close NESCAC games that we lost but it was still a very happy year. We are such a young team; I am really excited about next year. We had 12 freshmen so that was about half the team. We have eight freshmen coming in and we know all of them.”
As Reilly looks ahead to her sophomore season, she is bringing some hard-earned knowledge to the table.
“I learned a lot; it is so humbling,” said Reilly, who is currently playing in a summer league and is coaching at Tri-State Lacrosse in addition to doing her Amherst off-season workouts.
“I had been a starter as a freshman in high school. It is good for freshmen to learn their place.”