After doing a “Polar Bear Plunge” in Lake Eerie, South Carolina freshman forward Shae O’Rourke isn’t exactly dipping her toes into the water when it comes to adjusting to playing big time college soccer. The rookie from Wheatfield, New York has made a splash for the fourth-ranked Gamecocks by sharing the team lead with three goals and also pacing the team with three assists through the first eight games of the season.
“I’m always the person who really wants to make an impact wherever I am,” said O’Rourke, who is studying sports management. “If you play scared, you will look scared on the field, and you won’t make that impact. Playing with my older sister helped me. When I was really young, I always played with girls a lot bigger than me.”
O’Rourke was involved in a lot of community service efforts in high school including some work with the Special Olympics, which eventually led to some fundraising efforts and the “Polar Plunge.”
“You jump into the lake, and that raises a bunch of money,” O’Rourke said. “It’s a big event. It was so cold! All of the Special Olympics kids there did it with me. It was so fun! I jumped out fast. My dad handed me a towel right away.”
Her hometown is approximately 20 miles north of Buffalo and a short drive to the Canadian border. While the proud member of the Buffalo Bills “mafia” hasn’t been intimidated about playing in the SEC, O’Rourke did have some things to adapt to when she came to South Carolina.
“You don’t realize how much you have to work defensively because these girls are ten times better than what I’m used to!”
“The heat was a huge thing for me,” O’Rourke said. “I had to get used to it early during the summer when I came down here to get ready for the season. It’s also a new style of play. I was usually a center forward in high school, and I’m playing outside forward now. So, I’m still learning what they want and expect me to do. It’s been a great transition so far.
“The speed of play is the toughest thing (in college), and the defending aspect is a huge thing. You don’t realize how much you have to work defensively because these girls are ten times better than what I’m used to!”
O’Rourke earned All-American honors at St. Mary’s High School and was the Gatorade New York Girls Soccer Player of the Year as a senior. She scored 135 goals in her high school career, and although she knew it would be a bigger challenge in college, she has hit the ground running. She has played in all eight games for the Gamecocks, starting the last three contests. She scored the game-winning goal against East Carolina on August 21, and later found the back of the net in consecutive games against Furman on September 4 and at Virginia Tech on September 8.
“It was very exciting when I got my first goal here,” O’Rourke said. “I wanted to make a difference right when I came in. The support of the team is great and it’s a lot of fun.”
Both of her parents played college sports at Niagara University, with her mother, Barb, playing soccer, and father, Terry, playing hockey. With sports part of her DNA, O’Rourke played a lot of sports growing up, including basketball, volleyball, softball, gymnastics, and hockey.
“I played soccer right away,” O’Rourke said. “They didn’t push me into it. Other than soccer, I really liked gymnastics the best. I had to decide between going competitive there and playing soccer. I just like scoring goals, and I love the team environment. I like having a group of girls that support you on and off the field.”
“In women’s hockey, you can’t check. That’s why I chose soccer,” O’Rourke added with a laugh.
Yes, O’Rourke acknowledges she can do a lot to improve her game, but no, the freshman isn’t scared to leave it all out on the pitch. And after a tough match or practice, at least dipping into a cold tub for rehab may remind her a little bit of home.