Photo by Hillary Ehlen
Senior Malley O’Brien looks to build on her 2017 All-Summit League performance this fall.
It’s tough for any athlete to improve regardless of the season they had before. For Malley O’Brien, it is even more challenging given her 2017 campaign. O’Brien, a senior from Superior, Wisconsin, notched a team-high seven goals (four of them game-winners) for the Bison last season. Thanks to her prowess for finding the net, she was named All-Summit League First Team and Summit League All-Tournament Team.
O’Brien now enters her senior season with a new coach and a new outlook on being a team leader. Originally transferring from the University of Wisconsin in 2015, O’Brien has only known former coach Mark Cook. However, she has welcomed new coach Mike Regan with open arms and is already seeing a significant difference in the way the team is acting and playing.
“Personally, I’ve seen a drastic change in the way people practice and the way people play. Just the effort we give for him is really immense. I just feel like people have more fire to play for him and his intensity is really helpful, especially in practice,” she said. “If our intensity isn’t there, he’ll stop training and bring us in and tell us to bring that level up. I feel like everyone is able to raise their level and people are doing that to a level that I’ve never seen before.”
This intensity is a hallmark of Regan’s coaching philosophy and a standard he sets for his players. Regan agrees that O’Brien has seen tremendous benefits in the uptick in intensity during practice. He sees O’Brien as a “very talented player” and was quick to note that her training regiment was not what it could’ve been in previous seasons.
While her new outlook on training may lead to a more successful 2018, O’Brien sees areas in her game that she can improve upon. Mainly, her consistency and becoming a leader on the pitch for the Bison.
“After last season, we didn’t start well and I know I didn’t start well, personally, but I finished pretty well. For me, I want to start out the season strong and hopefully I can keep getting stronger towards the end,” she said. “I obviously have really high expectations for myself, but I just kind of want to build off what I did last year. I want to score a lot of goals and more so be a leader from a talking standpoint both on and off the field. Always make sure everyone is on the same page and be helpful.”
While O’Brien sees herself as a vocal leader for NDSU this season, the Bison feature four other seniors alongside her. They also return three juniors and a large pool of sophomores as well. O’Brien sees different leadership qualities in all of the seniors and she feels that will be to the benefit of the team. “I think that we all bring something different, each five of us seniors that makes us a leader,” she said. “I think us five having different assets is really impactful. There are a few of us that are really approachable and a few that are more silent leaders. I think that has been huge because it helps us bring the group together and move forward.”
She also wants to become a mentor for the incoming freshman and sophomores who will one day be at the forefront of this program. This is something that was done when O’Brien was a freshman and she wants to keep the tradition going for future generations. “It’s building relationships with a lot of the younger players,” she said. “I remember when I was a freshman and if a senior said something to me, it really helped me and gave me a lot of confidence. I want to make sure I am that person to the younger players.”
In what will be a crucible of tough non-conference and conference games, chemistry will be the most vital point of emphasis for Bison soccer. “Everyone needs to be on the same page, keeping each other accountable. I know that we have set schedules and guidelines that say we need to get to bed at this time, we need to do this or that,” O’Brien said. “It makes it really easy when this team is on the same page and we all want to win. We’re all willing to get the extra treatment or make the extra effort even if we’re tired. Any obstacles that come our way, we are really good at getting each other through them. That will help us.”
Picked fourth out of nine teams in the Summit League, O’Brien feels the usual characters will be near the top of the conference standings. South Dakota State is the defending regular-season Summit League champion with Denver winning the conference tournament title, defeating NDSU in the championship. Since 2013, the Jackrabbits and Pioneers are the only teams to represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament. O’Brien is ready to break the streak.
“It’ll be a fight until the end. Every game will be a battle and we’ll have to take it one by one. The game can go anyway, no matter who we are playing,” she said. “I think it’ll be pretty obvious that the top four will be the usual. It will be a battle between us and Denver and SDSU and North Dakota. Every game is going to be a fight.”
In what will be her final run on the pitch for the Bison, Malley O’Brien is prepared to dominate. Her aim is to score a lot of goals. Given her skill set and ability, do not be surprised if plenty of her shots end up in the back of the net.