BRAINTREE — Catherine Conley was walking through the rain last week with a couple of her Needham High teammates and coach Beth O’Brien following a scrimmage against Thayer Academy. The subject of records, specifically, the career points’ mark for the program, was broached.
Maddie Stenberg, an All-American selection as a senior last spring, is the top Rocket in program history with 439 points. Conley, also an All-American midfielder, and Stenberg’s scoring partner the last three years, is entering her senior season with 313.
O’Brien acknowledged that the all-time mark is within reach, and Conley did not say a word. She did not need to. A quick raise of her eyebrows and an ever-so-slight smile said everything that needed to be said: Yes, she is aware she is 126 points away, and yes, she is gunning for the mark.
And it does not really matter to her if she gets there by scoring goals or helping others score.
“I enjoy feeding as much as I like scoring,” said Conley, who has almost as many assists (138) as she does goals (175). “I like to see other people be successful too, and obviously [assists] are just as important as goals.”
That selfless mind-set, combined with what O’Brien described as Conley’s fearless talent, has helped bring the Rockets close to a championship in each of the last three seasons.
In Conley’s freshman and sophomore years, the Rockets fell to Leslie Frank-coached Westwood teams in the Division 1 South sectional final. Last year Needham lost in the sectional semifinals to Notre Dame Academy, coached by Meredith Frank, Leslie’s daughter.
If O’Brien and company make a run this season to challenge the House of Frank for EMass supremacy, bet on Conley and her lacrosse instinct being big reasons why.
“Offense is about patience, reading, knowing the players around her, and she just has a great ability — even already, with some new players in the offense — to [make a play],” O’Brien said. “She’s not afraid. It’s hard to describe it. She’s a kid that’s not afraid to go to the goal, she’s not afraid to take a foul. She’s probably one of our most effective 8-meter players.”
This season is different for the Rockets, who are adjusting to life without Stenberg and are counting on a number of younger players to step up to replace that production. It is a particularly abrupt transition for Conley, who goes from half of a prolific one-two punch (110 goals, 93 assists combined in 2013 for Conley and Stenberg) to the team’s undisputed top offensive option — and all of the defensive attention from other teams that comes with it.
“It’s definitely so much different from the last three years,” Conley said. “It’s kind of nice, but there are definitely people that have stepped up.”
The Rockets are not exactly short on talent when it comes to stepping up.
Midfielder/attack Kailey Conry was the team’s third-leading point-scorer as a freshman in 2013, trailing only the All-Americans, while junior attack Audrey Walsh — a Bucknell recruit — chipped in with 55 points a year ago.
Senior captain Kira Oberle (Elon), who is recovering from a bout with mononucleosis, collected 41 points last season in addition to leading the team in forced turnovers, interceptions, draw controls, and ground-ball control. O’Brien said Oberle is a defensive midfielder at heart but has improved her offensive game significantly in the last 12 months.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to Conley as the catalyst.
“She’s that quarterback,” O’Brien said. “She knows how to tell her attackers where to go and she knows how to give them signals. She creates opportunities either by the way that she dodges and sees what the defense actually does, or she opens up other opportunities by telling people where to go.”
Added captain Annee O’Connor, the Colorado-bound goalie: “I love watching her play. It’s awesome to see how unselfish she is, even with all the talent she has. She could easily go right to the goal, but she tries to set other people up.”
Point record or not, sectional title or not, this season will be a special one for Conley, and not just because it is her last. Her sister Sarah — or “SCons” if you ask any of the Rockets — is a freshman who O’Brien expects to see significant time in the offensive end.
Catherine Conley missed playing with her older sister, Meghan, a former Globe All-Scholastic, by one year, so she said she feels fortunate to step on the field with Sarah.
“I’ve been looking forward to this,” said Catherine, who will play at Fairfield next year. “I was hoping she’d make varsity. We’ve never played together, even on club or anything, so it’s definitely really weird and awesome to play with her.”Tim Healey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @timbhealey.