Hughes Hurdles Obstacles

            Rochester native Meg Hughes has been a dominant athlete on the South Coast going back to her emergence as a 10-year-old contender in the annual Mattapoisett Road Race. A three-sport athlete at Old Rochester Regional High School, she excelled in soccer, basketball, and track. Making the jump to becoming an NCAA Division 1 athletics is a tall task for anyone, but after suffering a potentially career-ending knee injury it became an even bigger leap.

            Shortly after signing her letter of intent to accept a scholarship to play women’s soccer and run spring track at Providence College, Hughes sustained a tear of an anterior-cruciate knee ligament (ACL) during a basketball game in late February.

            The normal recovery time is between eight months to just over a year. The mental toll can be daunting in the recovery period, as one will go through progress and setbacks. One can either rise to the occasion or fold.

            “There are two ways to go, a major comeback due to being super motivated or fall apart. I put in the time and worked out and put the time in with physical therapy,” Hughes said.

            Shortly after her injury, the coronavirus pandemic cancelled all college sports, and Providence did not have a fall 2020 season. The downtime was ironically convenient for a long-term injury rehabilitation. Under normal conditions, Hughes would not have been cleared to play soccer for her freshmen season. Instead, the soccer team started up in early spring, providing an opening for Hughes to join the program as a freshman.

            “COVID has worked out, and I didn’t miss the fall of freshman year. I got cleared in January just in time to play the abbreviated season,” she said, acknowledging some doubt. “I was nervous my knee wouldn’t feel the same before tearing it, (but) my knee feels just as strong. … It doesn’t feel like I tore (it). The first time I stepped on the soccer field, I felt I was normal.”

            Hughes was up and running for the Friars in the first game of the Spring 2021 season. Lining up as a winger, she scored in the February 24 season-opening game against Rhode Island. She went on to finish the abbreviated 12-game schedule, starting in four of those games. Hughes tallied four goals and six assists to end the year with 14 points. Her play and point total earned her the Big East Freshman of the Year award as well as a spot on the Second Team, All Big East.

            With Providence College soccer playing into the spring of 2021, Hughes was not available to participate in the track season. She is looking forward to competing in Spring 2022 and hoping to make a mark in the 400-meter run and 400 hurdles.

            Late in the summer, Hughes reported back to school for the Fall 2021 semester and a new season with the women’s soccer team. While not fully back to normal on campus, the day-to-day life of a Division 1 student-athlete is a lot closer to normal than last year and so is the training.

            “It is a big change from high school; it is hard,” Hughes said. “But you get assistance. (The) amount of work is a huge gap from Old Rochester, a lot more soccer.”

            With two games a week, practice daily except for Tuesday, weekly in-season training in the gymnasium, and team meetings before every practice, life as a NCAA Division 1 athlete is like a full-time job, and that’s on top of the student side of college.

            The learning has happened on the field as well. Beyond overcoming a major injury and dealing with COVID-related protocols, Hughes has made other adjustments.

            “Playing faster, it was a transition for me,” she said. “I had to think faster when I get the ball. Or before I got the ball. It was a challenge I had to overcome. The coach would always talk to me about it.”

            After dominating the South Coast Conference for Old Rochester for four years in which she totaled 192 points on 127 goals and 65 assists, Division 1 soccer has brought a whole new challenge.

            “The speed of play is the major difference,” Hughes said. “Everyone is so similar and there are no standouts. Players are very equivalent.”

            Helping make the transition is her roommate, Avery Snead, with whom Hughes played on a club team prior to both attending Providence College. Along with Snead, the Friars are a tight-knit group. “The team is very welcoming; we get along well,” Hughes said. “I knew I had to work hard to earn a starting spot and get to where I am right now.”

            Currently in her sophomore year from both academic and athletic standpoints, Hughes has started all 17 games played by Providence this season. She has scored eight goals with four assists for a total of 20 points. Twice this fall she has earned Big East Player of the Week awards.

By Ryan Feeney

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