Fall, Sports

From Rookie To Sophomore Star: Dowd Transforms Into Scoring Machine

Hayley Dowd sits back in her chair, coffee cup in hand, the only other person in the room. She’s co-leading the ACC in points and goals, with 19 and eight, respectively, and yet—she’s still completely focused on the team. Dowd is happy to talk about her backstory, how she wound up at Boston College, and how important her family is to her, but when Dowd steps onto the soccer field, it’s the team first, last, and always.

“When I initially started the college search, I was like, ‘I want to go far away, somewhere warm, get away from the winter,’” Dowd said. “But when it got closer and closer to making the decision, I just really wanted to stay close to home and close to my family.”
Dowd’s family still shows up to almost every BC game—and not just her parents. “Some games I have my mom, my dad, my brother, both sets of grandparents, and my aunt—so that’s awesome for me,” she said. Her family isn’t the only support that Dowd gets, however.

At nine years old, Dowd dribbled through multiple defenders and slotted the ball into the net for her rec team. The maneuver would one day become a familiar sight for BC’s fans, one that would normally result in ecstatic celebration for her team and supporters, and heads shaking in disbelief from her opponents. Instead of patting her on the back, though, Dowd’s coach, an older Italian gentleman without any kids on the team, called her over. Dowd recalls him telling her, “Look, that’s great that you can score, but you had two options besides you who could have scored, so next time just keep that in mind.” These days, according to Dowd, it’s always in the back of her mind.

Dowd’s lead-by-example attitude—she dislikes trying to be a vocal leader— has been crucial this year as the Eagles have worked their way to an 8-4 record. Just a sophomore, Dowd has taken on a leadership role as the team fights through multiple injuries to key players. BC has, of course, gotten this far without star forward McKenzie Meehan, who scored 20 goals last year and added one assist for a whopping 41 points in 23 games. Despite playing with Meehan for the entirety of last year, Dowd still found herself amazed at Meehan’s goal-scoring prowess.

“McKenzie just finds a way to score, she’s always in the right spot. You’re like ‘Where’d she come from?’ and she scores,” Dowd said with a laugh. “And losing that is terrible. But I think the trio of me, [Lauren Bernard], and [Stephanie McCaffrey], have really stepped up. We’re three completely different players, so instead of getting production from one, we’re spreading it around a little bit, and I think we’ve stepped up, which we’ve had to.”

Meehan’s is not the only injury BC has had to deal with this year—senior goalie Alexandra Johnson got hurt against the University of South Florida Bulls and has been replaced between the posts by freshman Darien Dunham. Combined with the fact that both center back positions are patrolled by freshmen, Allyson Swaby and Madison Kenny, BC had the potential to fall apart. A young team with multiple new pieces playing key roles—nobody would have been too surprised if they started sliding, spiraling, and then free falling down the ranks of the ACC powerhouses. As a contributing freshman last year, Dowd knows how tough it can be to adjust to the college game.

“Freshmen just need to feel comfortable,” Dowd said. “We can’t scream at them, we can’t do that. Especially at the back, we don’t need anyone to yell at them, we just need them to feel comfortable. I thought I played at the highest level when I was in high school and club, but when you get on that field, it’s a battle, and it’s tough.”

Dowd’s leadership style is akin to that of army generals of old—take the front lines. She hopes that by working as hard as she can, it will cause a trickle-down.

Emily Fahey / Heights Editor
Emily Fahey / Heights Editor

Last year, it was Meehan who helped the Eagles turn their season around when they stumbled early on and needed a huge rally late in the season to make the NCAA Tournament.

“We didn’t even think we were going to make the tournament at one point in the season because we were losing a lot of games,” Dowd said of the Eagles’ sub-.500 start. After stringing together a strong second half to make the tournament, however, the Eagles managed to reach the Elite Eight before being eliminated by No. 1 Florida State. Dowd recorded two goals and an assist in BC’s four tournament games. “We felt we deserved to be in the tournament, so when we got that call it was awesome,” Dowd said. “We had those hiccups early in the year, but we peaked at the right time.”

Dowd says the turnaround came when the coaching staff told them to take it one game at a time and to leave everything out. “I think that attitude was awesome for us,” Dowd said. “We just went into every game like it was our last and didn’t look further down the line, just stuck with that one game, and I think that worked really well.”

When the 2014 season started out full of adversity, the team committed to the same approach from the get-go. “I think taking one game at a time is the perfect way to look at this season,” Dowd said. “We feel the three losses [four after Sunday’s loss to Clemson] could have been avoided, but we’re learning from each of them.”

As Dowd has advanced through her BC career, not everything has been sunshine and rainbows. While Dowd came through big for the Eagles in the NCAA tournament last year, those five points were more than a third of her full season total. This year, Dowd went the first three games without recording a single point, let alone a goal. She’s also failed to find the score sheet in three of the Eagles’ last four games. Where others might wring their hands and worry, neither Dowd nor her coaches are particularly concerned.

For a striker, not being able to put the ball in the net is akin to a wide receiver not getting enough targets in the passing game. It’s oftentimes frustrating and can snowball into a massive slump that can affect not just the player, but the entire team as well.
“It’s tough, but you can’t think about scoring,” Dowd said earnestly. “Like, as long as we’re winning, it really doesn’t matter to me. I just want to do anything I can to help the team win … you can’t think about the scoring end much, you just have to think about what you can do to make this team better and make them win.”

Dowd’s mindset is one that endears her to her teammates—especially in a year when the Eagles need to rely on their team as a whole instead of hoping a star will cary the team. Her hard-working, team-first attitude is exactly what the Eagles need to repeat what they accomplished last year.

Dowd says her team is completely focused on the tasks ahead of them, first of which is ACC play. “Every game is basically a must-win. We should get as many points from the ACC as we possibly can, and we’re gonna run into some really good teams,” Dowd said, and she’s not wrong. At 1-2 in the conference following their loss to Clemson, the Eagles will face a tough series of tests including Virginia, Louisville, and Duke as they look to match or improve on the year they had last season.

An unexpected challenge BC has had to face this year is the state of the Newton Campus Soccer Field. Twice this year it has been shut down due to unsafe playing conditions, with both men’s and women’s teams forced to play “home” games elsewhere, including at Harvard and in Waltham. It’s tough enough to play an ACC-strength schedule at home in front of a home crowd and students—it’s even tougher to do so with only a nominal home-field advantage.

Dowd says her team has once again taken it in stride, however, leaning on its “one game at a time” attitude. In fact, as she rightly points out, BC’s record is actually better on the road, at 5-1, than it is at home, at just 2-3. “I think it’s just another form of adversity—with the injuries and now we don’t even have a home field,” Dowd chuckled. “But we’re just taking it in stride.”
Even when she’s simply sitting in a chair, it’s impossible to miss the bubbly energy that Dowd brings both to the field and to her life every day. The coffee cup she holds probably helps supplement that energy, as it does for so many other college students. That energy is curiously contrasted with her laid back attitude—nothing seems to faze the sophomore—not a scoring drought, not an injury to the best player on the team, and not even the daunting task of trying to help fill in the gap left by that player.

Dowd doesn’t try to replace Meehan—nobody can do that. She brings her own style, her own type of leadership to the team. Focused on just one game at a time, Dowd sincerely believes that this team can make it back to the NCAA Tournament. While Dowd might be the focal point of the attack this year for the Eagles, what she seems to enjoy more than being in the spotlight herself is shining that light on her teammates.

Featured Image by Graham Beck / Heights Senior Staff

October 2, 2014