By Gianna Addario
---- — After the season the Beverly girls soccer team had last fall, there was no question that colleges would come looking for star sweeper Kristen O’Connor.
The junior center back anchored the Panthers defense and helped them earn the program’s first North title in a shootout win against Central Catholic in the Division 1 North final.
O’Connor heard from many schools after the tournament run, but in the end ultimately decided on an early decision to Bryant University for the fall of 2014.
“When making my decision I wasn’t focused on making a decision early, it just seemed to happen that a lot of schools were recruiting at my age level,” explained O’Connor. “It was definitely a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, though. I made the commitment early because I found a school that I loved and worked with everything I wanted. I am looking to go into business and Bryant is a really good business school.”
The campus is only about an hour and half from O’Connor’s home, so she’s hoping her family will be able to make the drive down for some of her home games. The Bulldogs’ Division 1 program had its best showing last season, finishing 11-8 overall and just missing out on making the tournament.
“I’ve had a chance to meet with the team and saw a scrimmage,” said O’Connor. “I feel that I would fit in well with the team.”
A Northeastern Conference and Eastern Mass. all-star, O’Connor plays soccer year round for the Aztec club team and also runs both winter and spring track at Beverly High, where she competes in the 400 hurdles, high jump, triple jump, long jump and 4x400 relay.
O’Connor, who turned 17 at the end of January, caught the attention of college coaches playing for both Beverly and the Aztecs.
“Most of the schools I heard from were from Aztecs, but some coaches were at the tournament games,” added O’Connor. “Some had heard of the season we had, which was very helpful and I know a few people that go to Bryant now.”
O’Connor has played under Beverly head coach Kristin Simpson since she was 10-years-old. As one of the leading defenders on the field for the Panthers this fall, O’Connor played a pivotal role in the teams’ 10 shutout performances.
“I have watched her develop into a great player,” noted Simpson. “She actually started as a part-time goalkeeper, but was too good to keep her off the field. Last season Kristen gained a lot of confidence and it showed in her play.
“For Beverly, she is a great defender and the rock in our defense, but she really is such a complete player and can play anywhere you need her. In practice she always tries to play up top because as much as she loves stopping goals she loves scoring them just as much.”
Many people didn’t expect the Panthers (17-4) to go as far as they did in the tournament, but timely scores and exceptional goalkeeping and defense led them all the way state semifinals. O’Connor took the majority of Beverly’s free kicks last season and finished with two goals.