Former Catlholic Institute woman Róisín Upton became the second Irish woman to land an NCAA title, playing a key role in the UConn Huskies first victory in the competition for 28 years.
The Huskies defeated Duke 2-0 in the final of the American collegiate system’s showpiece competition in Virigina on Sunday, a result that saw Upton follow up the exploits of Megan Frazer (Maryland) to land the prestigious crown.But having struggled with a foot injury during her final season as a schoolgirl – she missed the U18 interpros, plus her first seven games with UConn as a result – Upton admitted she wasn’t sure if her American dream would have lift off.
“When I left for Connecticut (in 2012) I wasn’t too sure if I would ever regain full fitness after having an operation on my foot,” said the 19-year-old former Irish underage international. “Everyone here was so patient with me, looked after me and encouraged me so I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
“All I wanted to do was get back playing competitively and I was thrilled to find the standard here is really strong. I owe the system here a lot and can’t speak highly enough of how they treat their athletes.
“We play 25 games in less than three months, which is a gruelling schedule when you take into account we are full-time students as well. Our academic advisor travelled with us to the Final Eight last weekend so I could sit an exam at the same time as my class.”
The Limerick woman assisted her side’s goal in the 1-1 semi-final draw with Sinead Loughran’s North Carolina Tar Heels. She had a stellar game at centre back in the decider against Duke and her short corner strike led to the opening goal in the final.
As a result, Upton was also named as one of the tournament’s best players, something that large number of Irish players have also been recoginised for in the 2013 season.
Upton says that the growing home contingent stateside has helped her settle in to a very different hockey lifestyle.
“The Irish really are making their mark here. It was initially difficult being so far away from home and not having my family and friends on the sideline for every game, especially my parents who are my number one supporters. But the Americans and their parents treat you as one of their own, it’s one big family.
“Having Rebecca [Barry] and Amy [Cooke] there for the semis and final and having the incredible support of family, friends and the hockey community back home really was so special also.
“Winning it is so surreal. It hasn’t sunk in yet. The entire weekend was such an amazing experience. With all the social media and well wishers I’ve received it’s slowly beginning to dawn on me.
“I’ve never experienced this type of hockey before. I’ve played in many exciting knock out tournaments that last a week or two. I’ve done my fair share of travelling with hockey at underage level travelling to Australia, the Youth Olympics in Singapore and all around Europe. I’ve played with some great players back home with Crescent, Catholic Institute, Munster and Ireland. But (the difference is) they put such a huge emphasis on sport over here.
“This is only college hockey but it’s treated so professionally. There is nothing left to chance – we train five days a week, we have two physios specifically for our team, we play at least two games per week, we take contrast tubs and ice baths every week, every college has a waterbase pitch, and we have video sessions every week.”