When opportunity knocked, Abington Heights’ Riley Mulherin was ready.
The 2019 Times-Tribune Girls Soccer Player of the Year had her eyes on her school’s all-time scoring record, another league title, and maybe a district championship and a state playoff win or two. Not to mention a second berth on the state coaches’ all-state team.
All that was snatched away by the coronavirus pandemic when contact sports at Abington Heights were canceled for the fall sports season, leaving Mulherin 25 goals shy of the record, and with her aspirations of playing Division I soccer fading, too.
While that door may have closed, Mulherin is looking at another window of opportunity.
“I’m more looking at Division II and Division III right now,” Mulherin said. “But in the beginning I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I really want to go Division I,’ but now it’s kind of just going in the opposite direction of where I thought I would be going.”
The last nine months have handed all of us plenty of lemons. Mulherin’s just trying to use hers to make chicken francaise.
“I don’t think it’s been a terrible thing, honestly,” Mulherin said. “I really don’t. It takes a lot of commitment and strength and whatnot.”
Mostly, it takes being seen by Division I coaches, which comes from playing in elite-level tournaments.
There has been very little of that, too.
“It’s really tough right now because I haven’t gotten much exposure,” Mulherin said. “Due to COVID, a lot of my tournaments got canceled. A lot of my games as well as my high school season. So I’m trying to do the best I can right now trying to reach out to coaches.”
It might be a lot easier if she had some of those credentials on her resume.
“It’s brutal on everybody,” Abington Heights girls soccer coach Errol Mannick said. “This is a year that we were loaded, her senior season, she was going to try to break the school record. She was well within reach of it.
“She’s not being able to get seen, to get another all-state recognition, breaking the school record recognition, maybe some district or state wins, it just stinks.”
A letter of recommendation from Mannick will only go so far, however.
“I’ve been in touch with quite a few coaches and yes, they’re very understanding,” Mulherin said. “I know that it’s a tough time right now, and a lot of them were supposed to come to some of my tournaments and games, but I had to tell them that they were canceled because of coronavirus, and they completely understood.”
Last season, Mulherin blossomed into the player Mannick knew she could be, a talented forward who backed up a 19-goal sophomore season with an even better junior campaign.
Abington Heights went undefeated in the Lackawanna League Division I campaign and Mulherin added 26 goals and five assists en route to a second All-Region berth and her first all-state nod.
“She has that ability to accelerate by somebody,” Mannick said. “She can turn it on and put the ball in the right spot. And not be afraid to put it in the right spot.
That’s what she really excels at.”
Her individual desire to improve drives her.
“A lot of our (travel) practices did get canceled because of corona and the weather and unexpected bumps in the road, but with that being said, I usually just go out myself and go to the Abington turf and just practice myself or with some of my friends on the soccer team, so we can get touches on the ball at least,” Mulherin said.
She can attack with either foot, making her tough to defend one-on-one, something she’s been working on in those spontaneous workouts. When she moves on to the next level, that desire to be better could be one of her greatest assets.
“I’ve been working on a lot of things,” Mulherin said. “Mostly small touches on a ball, doing one-v-one — I am a forward. I need to touch up on a lot of things because I haven’t had soccer in over a year and haven’t played that much so I’m kind of rusty here and there, depending on what area.”
Finding where to play at that next level is the current challenge.
“I have videos up on the NCSA (Next College Student Athlete) site as well as YouTube,” Mulherin said. “Some of the coaches have looked at those videos and contacted me so there’s always those, but I really wish I could have played this year.”
Last time she took part in a game was a few weeks ago in a tournament, but that doesn’t compare to what could have been in a senior season, and not just the competition.
“Freshman year I was welcomed on to the team, everyone was welcoming and the bond between all the girls, it was incredible,” Mulherin said. “All the girls got along. We bonded as a team. We played well together. We had many fun bus rides, singing, and it’s really gonna be missed.”
One thing she might not miss is those 6 a.m. practices over the summer.
“He pushed us hard,” she said of Mannick. “We used to have one 6 a.m. practice and we had to flip tires, do sprints, all kinds of things. But it got in our head. I feel like it pushed most of us harder to work.
“He always told us that if we’re a minute late he’d send us home.”
She knows that’s the kind of thing that good coaches do to give their players an edge, and it’s one that Mannick thinks will pay off down the road, wherever she plays.
“The great part about it is someone is going to get such a talented scorer who has Division I potential at that level,” Mannick said. “It will be good for somebody.”
Marty Myers began his career as a sports writer at The Wayne Independent in Honesdale, where he served as sports editor and later managing editor. After 10 years there, he joined The Times-Tribune in 1994 and has spent the ensuing years reporting on high school sports, local and professional golf. An award-winning journalist, he also enjoys his duties as a copy editor for The Times-Tribune, editing stories and designing pages. A native of Williamsport, Marty resides in Clarks Summit. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 570-348-9100 x5437 or @mmyersTT.