College connections: Caron catches on at UConn

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AUBURN — When Mary Caron talks about her experiences, there’s still a hint of amazement and disbelief about it all.

A three-sport standout at St. Dominic Academy, Caron has been living the dream of any budding athlete, and still coming to grips with reality.

“I never would have believed it if someone had told me last year that I was going to be playing Division I soccer at UConn when I go there,” Caron said. “I’d have been, ‘You’re crazy. No way.'”

Caron found a way, and it was a route she least expected.

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“It’s unbelievably exciting,” said Caron, a freshman pre-pharmacy major. “I’m loving every minute of it. It’s a lot to take in. It’s definitely been worth it.”

Caron was the goalie on the Saints’ first-ever Western C soccer championship team in 2011. St. Dom’s lost to Central in overtime in the state game. Caron was also a standout softball and basketball player for the Saints.

Once she got to UConn, she put her athletic career aside. She had contemplated trying out for the softball team, but instead chose to focus on her academics.  She tried out to play on the school’s club soccer team and was active with that group when the Huskies’ varsity goalie coach, Zac Shaw, came by.

The Huskies’ varsity soccer team had one junior and two freshmen on the roster as goalies. When the starter, one of the freshmen, was hurt, the junior took her place. That left the Huskies with just one backup. Shaw was scouting out what options existed at the club level.

“A week later, he sent me an email asking me if I’d be interested in practicing with the team that week and possibly joining the team,” Caron said. “Of course, I said, ‘Yes, definitely, I’d love to.'”

Before Caron knew it, she was taking care of NCAA paperwork and her name was being added to the UConn roster.

“I was just in shock the whole time,” she said. “From the beginning, I couldn’t even believe it. It was kind of a Cinderella story a little bit. I was in awe the whole time. I just took it as it came, and I didn’t really expect anything. I just ran with it.”

Caron has always been one of those naturally-gifted athletes that not only possessed great skills but also a determined work ethic. Still, stepping up to the varsity level in the middle of the soccer season at UConn was a whole other experience.

“It was awesome,” she said. “It’s such a different level of play than any team I’ve ever been on. It was always very competitive and very focused. I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot and I’m still learning a lot. I just loved it. It was awesome. Being with the whole team and learning from them and everything every day was great.”

It was still a tremendous adjustment. She was an outsider joining the team. Between the level of play and trying to fit in with a new team was a challenge.

“At first, I was very overwhelmed,” Caron said. “I couldn’t really believe it, this whole crazy thing that happened.”

It didn’t take long for her to feel comfortable. Working with the team regularly gave her confidence and allowed her to settle in.

“As I got to know the girls more and practice with them more, I played my way onto the team a little more,” she said. “I felt like I was improving as time went on and was getting closer to their level than I was before.”

She didn’t get into any games but finished the end of the regular season with the Huskies and was with the team during the playoffs. She’ll remain with the Huskies for the time being and then see what evolves.

“I’ll definitely be with the team this spring,” she said. “As for next year, I don’t know. It’s an open book, see how it goes kind of thing. If I can be on the team next year, I will. If I work hard and everything, right now, I’m just playing my role and learning.”

kmills@sunjournal.com

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