Shea Connors has taken the first step in her professional soccer career, but it’s likely that most might not guess the location of her initial landing spot.
After finishing her collegiate playing days for St. John’s University and head coach Ian Stone, Connors will now lace up her boots for Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur (better known as KR) in Iceland. The New Haven, Conn., native’s contract with the team runs through September and allows her to fulfill a dream of playing the sport she loves professionally.
Following her playing days at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, where she garnered a host of accolades and in 2013 helped lead her team to a Connecticut state title, Connors became an integral part of the St. John’s women’s soccer team. During her four seasons with the Red Storm, she appeared in 73 matches scoring 8 goals with 12 assists.
Connors recently spoke with SleterFC.com about her time at St. John’s and what it now means to play professional soccer.
SLETERFC.com: How did the opportunity to play professionally in Iceland come about?
SHEA CONNORS: I had been looking to further my soccer career after the season ended when a former coach, Manya Makoski Puppione, reached out to me. She knew I had been looking for opportunities to play. Her former teammate from her professional days, Bojana Besic, coaches in Iceland and she needed a forward. Manya forwarded me the contact information, and from there it worked out and I signed a contract to play with her team.
SFC.com: Has it been a long-time goal of yours to play professional soccer?
SC: It has always been a dream of mine. I was not sure if it always would be a reality, but I always kept it in my mind. I thought, if there is an opportunity that presents itself, I would not want to turn it down as I would always regret not trying.
SFC.com: What is the length of your contract and which team are you now playing for?
SC: My contract is for the entire season until the end of September. I am playing for KR (Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur), which is the professional football club located in Reykjavik.
SFC.com: Prior to now, have you ever been to Iceland?
SC: I have never been to Iceland, nor had I ever been to any European country.
SFC.com: Although you’ve been in Iceland for only a short time, can you share your initial impressions of the country, your new team and perhaps even the soccer culture?
SC: Since arriving, the country is beautiful. The ocean is breathtaking and the architecture is very vibrant and historic. My new team is very friendly and seems to enjoy each other’s company, which is very nice. They are serious about their football and I am excited to join them this season. I have only been to one practice so far, but when it comes to playing it is business.
SFC.com: In making the move to Iceland, was it challenging for you to find a spot on a team domestically in the NWSL?
SC: I did not want to pursue a professional career in the NWSL. I did not try to make that happen and never reached out to any coaches. I wanted to travel and see the world. I wanted to let football take me places I have never been and see what it is like outside of the United States.
Very excited to announce that @StJohnsWSoccer player @_SheaBaee has signed a Professional contract to play for one of the top clubs in Iceland, KR. This young lady has always represented our Program, the Athletic Department, & the University in a first-class manner. Good luck!! pic.twitter.com/8TNWRcmE4A
— Ian Stone (@IanStoneSJU) May 11, 2018
SFC.com: You have a had a strong four-year career at St. John’s. How have you evolved as a player during your college days?
SC: Over my college days, I feel like I have become a more complete player. Before college, I did not really defend much as I always played center forward. At St. John’s, I was primarily a winger. I learned to defend and track back covering players and learning a different aspect of the game. Coach Stone taught me both sides of the game and helped me figure out what I was lacking.
I also placed a greater emphasis on my footwork over my time here and different skills such as variations of shooting. I spent many, many hours doing individual sessions with the coaches of St. John’s, especially Jen Leaverton and Amy Marron. I would text them and just go out with them for hours on Belson (Stadium, St. John’s home field) or in the aux gym. I also would go out on my own to do ball-work. The culture of our program is to always get better. There is always something that you can go out and work on. The only way to get better is through consistency and repetitions. We spent every spring season honing in on skills we wanted to perfect.
I also feel that I have grown stronger physically, which has helped my game immensely. We have a phenomenal strength coach, Coach Rob Basile, who I owe a lot to for transforming my game. I think I was able to get very strong and fit from his programs. Every semester I was able to do more than the prior one. Coach Rob also placed an emphasis on knowing what our bodies need. After working with him for four years, I feel I am a smarter athlete and know how to take care of my body better.
SFC.com: Are there one or two memories from your St. John’s playing days that stand out?
SC: Winning the Big East Regular season title my sophomore year and playing in the NCAA tournament will always stick out to me!
There are so many memories I hold really close. Most of them consist of just spending time with my teammates. We genuinely become a family each year here. I know a lot of programs will say that they have that close-knit dynamic, but at St. John’s we really do. Through the ups and the downs, we always have each other’s backs. I have made wonderful, life-long friendships through playing at St. John’s. I already miss playing with the SJ logo on my chest. I am here today because of these girls that I have grown with and the coaches that have pushed me to be the player I am today.