Over her first two seasons at Salem State, Katie Brown scored six goals. It was a decent return for the Milford grad, who earned 25 starts and 33 appearances as a freshman and sophomore, but then something clicked heading into last season.
“It was all mentality,” Brown explained. “My spring semester at school I was struggling, my mental health was struggling, so I turned towards working out. I was lifting every day, which got me physically stronger and from that I was getting mentally stronger.
“From there, I was just ready to prove to myself that there was more in me. I only had two years left, so I just went for it. I was just ready. I knew I had more to prove than I did my freshman and sophomore year and I knew I had more in me.”
Brown committed herself to working out all summer, made every spring practice, and that extra effort paid off with a team-leading eight goals, helping the Vikings reach the MASCAC final. The momentum from 2018 has extended to her senior season, as Brown has already tallied three goals and two assists in seven games this fall, including one of each in the conference opener against Westfield State.
These last two seasons have propelled Brown up the career leaderboard at Salem State. She is now tied for third in career goals (eight behind the leader) and tied for fifth all-time in points (five behind second place). Brown, who was named a team captain this season, is also tied for sixth with three game-winning goals.
“I think that having those stats to back-up my passion for this game just shows all of the work that I’ve put in through basically my whole life,” Brown said. “It’s cool that even after I graduate those stats will still be there to remind me of the best times that I’ve had in my life playing soccer.”
Brown admitted that she has come a long way from the player that left Milford to come to Salem. For the Hawks, she was more of a playmaker, sitting in behind the forward or dropping back into the midfield to create opportunities for her teammates. Not that she wasn’t capable of scoring her fair share of goals, such as a five-goal game against Hudson that earned her HockomockSports.com Player of the Week honors her senior season, but it wasn’t her main focus.
Now, Brown is more than willing to take on defenders and has the confidence to go to goal herself, heeding the advice of her coaches and teammates.
“I feel like I’m a totally different player than I was in high school,” she said. “My confidence overall in taking players on one-on-one, taking those shots, just really finding that grit from down within to score for my team in those crucial moments.
“Coming in I think I was just very unsure of myself and now as a senior I’m definitely one of the quietest players but my coach always says, you are so important to this team because of leading by example and playing for your teammates.”
Brown talked a lot about her teammates. She credited the relationship and chemistry between her teammates for pushing the Vikings to last year’s conference final and for keeping the positivity high despite losing several key pieces from last year’s squad.
“Just having the team be my best friends, you just want to win for them,” she explained. “I train so hard in the summer so that, when I show up, I just want to play and I just want to win. If you show up for your teammates, then you’re going to start to win and develop that intensity.”
It wasn’t the best start to the season for the Vikings, with two wins in their opening seven games, but they did exact some revenge on Westfield State (the team that beat them in the final in 2018) with a 2-0 victory. Brown, who has dealt with an ankle injury and illness this season, assisted on the first goal and then added a second in the 78th minute with a half-volley to seal the points.
Although the Vikings would lose the following game, beating Westfield was a marker that Salem State would be able to challenge for a MASCAC title again this fall.
“I know coming in we had a lot of skeptics considering we lost all but one of our all-conference players, and definitely key players in our defense, but I think since we won against Westfield State that definitely made a statement in the league,” Brown said.
She has been playing soccer all her life. Her father and her older sisters both played and Brown talked about a photo of her holding a soccer ball at just two years old. It has been a long road to get to this point, a lot of training, a lot of club, high school, and college game, and Brown struggled to put into words what it would mean to close out her career with a conference title.
“I think it would just be a relief,” she said. “I’ve been playing soccer for 18 years, from club to all through high school, gone through all the struggles. I don’t even know how I would react, to be honest. It’s one of those things that you can’t explain how hard you’ve worked to win a championship and this is a team that I think can do it.”
Salem State will be back on the pitch on Saturday against conference rival Worcester State.