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Haley Connaughton makes a curtain call that some thought was impossible
Family support helped Connaughton return to the field after suffering an injury thought to be career ending
May 15, 2022
For Haley Connaughton, giving up is not an option.
An ankle injury to her right leg during practice in November of 2021 left her playing career uncertain, but the standout attacker kept fighting.
Connaughton was devastated after a surgeon said that her injury was career ending. With the 2021-22 season being Connaughton’s fifth season on the team, she was terrified of not knowing if she would be able to finish out her athletic career.
“Being told my career was over was extremely emotional for me,” Connaughton said. “Some days were better than others, for some time I thought that there was no hope.”
As Connaughton anxiously waited for her X-ray results, teammate Maddy Moloney was by her side to keep her calm and optimistic. Moloney reassured Connaughton that with it still being the fall and winter break coming up, she had a lot of time to recover before the start of season.
Connaughton got a second opinion from another surgeon who told her that she would be back on the field for the second half of the season. Watching the Minutewomen dominate its first game of the year against UMass Lowell from the sidelines, Connaughton was determined to recover.
“I knew I had to do everything in my power to get back on the field to celebrate with them,” Connaughton said.
UMass strength coach Joel Reinhardt and athletic trainer Julia Villani worked with Connaughton, as she continued to lean on the support from her family and teammates during her recovery.
Along with the strong sense of family that Connaughton has with her teammates, the support from her parents and three siblings was monumental in the success of her recovery. She used her family’s encouragement to keep going by sending them videos of her progress.
Watching her teammates practice and play in games that she was supposed to be in challenged Connaughton during recovery. Even with the encouragement and help from the people around her, she felt the lonely aspect that an injury can have on an athlete. However, she listened to podcasts and learned about famous athlete’s injury comeback stories to keep motivated throughout her journey.
‘Listening to their journeys helped me cope better with mine,” Connaughton explained. “It made me feel like I wasn’t alone and that it wasn’t just my battle.”
Originally from Westwood, Mass., Connaughton is no stranger to hard work and dedication. During her high school career playing for the Westwood Wolverines, Connaughton was named an All-American athlete in 2016 and 2017. She helped Westwood to two state titles during her freshman and junior seasons.
Connaughton also served as captain of not only the lacrosse team her senior year but also for the Wolverines’ soccer and basketball teams. She credits the tough love from her high school lacrosse coach, Leslie Frank, for shaping her both mentally and physically into the athlete she is today.
Growing up in an athletic family, Connaughton always knew she wanted to be a student athlete in college. Connaughton’s dad, who played Division I soccer for Hartwick College, inspired Connaughton to pursue her goal of playing lacrosse at the collegiate level.
“I loved hearing about his experience and how he’s still best friends with his teammates,” Connaughton said. “I wanted to recreate that with lacrosse.”
After three long months of recovery, Connaughton stepped back on the field on March 5, 2022, with the Minutewomen in their game against UConn. Overwhelmed with emotions, she stepped onto Garber Field for the first time since her injury.
“The feeling is indescribable, it felt like all the hard work and emotion that the injury took from me finally paid off,” Connaughton said.
Moloney attributes Connaughton’s leadership skills and advanced knowledge of lacrosse to the team’s strength and power. Having Connaughton back on the field gave Maloney not only a sense of elation but also additional security knowing that the team’s offense was stronger than ever.
“Being able to have her back out there was awesome for us as a unit but it was also great to see her back doing what she loves,” Moloney said.
Connaughton’s family were cheering her on from the stands during her first game back as well. Connor Connaughton cleared his schedule for the day to watch his younger sister step back onto the field. When Connor first learned that his sister was seriously hurt, he knew he had to be there for her as she healed from surgery at home. Being by her side for those critical first weeks made his attendance to the game even more special for Connor Connaughton.
“Getting to see her put on her jersey and jump in there was exhilarating,” Connor said. “Seeing her during that UConn game was rewarding for myself but also for her because she doesn’t take going light, easy.”
Leading as one of the captains for the 2021-22 season, alongside Olivia Muscella, Brinley Anderson and Amy Moreau, Connaughton strived throughout her last season. She played for a total of 105 minutes scoring 15 goals and had 20 goal assists. Connaughton was also recognized as one of the 2022 Atlantic-10 women’s lacrosse All Academic honorees.
Earning her 200th career point on March 26, 2022, against St. Bonaventure instilled a sense of assurance in Connaughton that she was going to have a strong rest of the season.
“I was struggling a bit coming back from my injury,” Connaughton said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. Getting that 200 point mark was so important to help me with my confidence.”
As she reflects on the past five years, Connaughton said playing lacrosse for UMass shaped her entire college career. Recognizing how special and unique being a member of a college sports team is, Connaughton’s close bond with both her teammates and coaches will be relationships that she will always cherish.
UMass lacrosse will not say goodbye to the Connaughton family as her younger sister, Ava Connaughton, is committed to play in 2024. Connaughton said that it was her friendships with the Minutewomen that made her sister want to play for UMass.
“She saw the connections that we made as teammates and wanted to follow that,” Connaughton emphasized. “I’m super proud of her and happy that I had that long lasting effect for her.”
Connaughton aims to continue the team’s core values of leadership, respect, commitment and family throughout her future and the next chapters in her life. After graduation, Connaughton will begin working as a sales associate for Putnam Investments in Boston, Mass. She was able to use the tools she’s learned from the team to help her secure the job through the lengthy hiring process.
Immensely proud of the accomplishments that both the team has made and the achievements she has had throughout her college career, Connaughton is grateful for the family she has formed with her teammates and is looking forward to seeing them continue to strive.
“You’re not thinking about the wins and losses 30 years from now,” Connaughton said. “You’re thinking about the connections and relationships that you will continue on for years to come.”
Corinne Arel can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @CorinneArel_09.
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