April 3, 2014

After Almost Walking Away, Conlon Finds a Home at Montclair State

After nearly giving up lacrosse three years ago, Tierney Conlon has 37 goals and 33 assists this season and is within striking distance of MSU's career scoring record. (Montclair St.)

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

The Montclair St. women’s lacrosse team has a way of sneaking up on people. The Redhawks are 10-0, one of just 10 undefeated teams remaining in Division III, yet quietly wait on the outside of the latest Top 20.

But Montclair St. can never be underestimated. Just look at what happened in the winter of 2012. Back then, Tierney Conlon, a junior who will almost certainly go down as the best player in program history, didn’t know what to make of the team from New Jersey’s second-largest school.

“I had seen them play once in high school once,” said Conlon, who ranks among Division III's leaders with 37 goals and 33 assists this year. “I didn’t know if they were any good. I was just walking in, saying ‘I guess I’ll just do it.’”

Conlon had planned on playing Division I lacrosse since fifth grade. After high school she headed to Duquesne to reach that goal. But you learn things in college. Pittsburgh didn’t feel right. The Dukes didn’t feel right. And Division I didn’t feel right. Conley didn’t enjoy the school, or even the sport anymore. She returned home to North Jersey.

“I honestly never expected to play again,” Conlon said. “I was sick of lacrosse. I was over it.” 

But you really can learn a lot in college. And, once she enrolled at nearby Montclair St., Conlon learned to love the game again. She plans on coaching when her playing days are over and, this summer, will coach her own team of high school sophomores for the first time.

Re-discovering that love was easy since the Redhawks welcomed her with open arms, showing her around the campus and scrambling to make sure she’d have enough credits to join the team. She may not have known much about the team, but when she arrived at her first practice she knew she belonged.

“The first day I was so excited you couldn’t even imagine,” she said.

Conlon set an MSU program record with 114 points that first season and was named Rookie of the Year for both the NJAC and the Skyline Conference. The next year she set program records in goals (54), assists (79) and points (79), while winning Skyline Player of the Year, NJAC Co-Player of the Year and third-team All-American honors. Last week, in a victory over New Paltz, she scored nine times and topped the 300-point barrier for her career. 

“I actually had no idea,” Conlon said. “My coach ran over and took the ball and was like, ‘That was your 300th career point.’ I was like, ‘Oh, that’s great.’”

Halfway through her junior season, Conlon is just 25 points away from topping MSU’s all-time points list. She’ll likely achieve that milestone before the season ends. Not that records are the goal. Conlon had another experience that first year at school, when Montclair St. again surprised and did a perfect job as host of the Division III final four. Conlon and the rest of the Redhawks worked the event.

“Just seeing them play the final four on our field was like, ‘We should be here,'” Conlon said. “'It would be sick if we were in it.' That definitely gave us some motivation.”

The Redhawks have reached the NCAA tournament with the Skyline’s automatic bid in each of the last past two season. In 2012, they upset York in the first round. This year they will have to forge a different path. 

The Redhawks can no longer get in by winning the Skyline, they must win the much tougher NJAC, which finally has enough teams to be an official lacrosse conference and offer an automatic bid. To return to the NCAA tournament, Montclair St. very likely will have to beat Rowan and TCNJ, which hasn’t lost to an NJAC team since 2010. TCNJ also hasn’t even allowed a shot on goal in its past two games, so there's that, too.

“I like being the underdog,” Conlon said. “That game means so much to us. I know every person on our team is going to play their hardest... I feel like we’re being underestimated by some teams.”

As Conlon knows, that’s never a good idea when it comes to Montclair St.

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