Colin Daly went through a lifetime of pressure to prepare for his big moment.
At 18 years old, he had endured more hardships than most adults, and he emerged on the other side with a quiet strength and natural leadership ability.
Still, there was no training for THIS.
Daly was about to take the biggest shot of his life with three minutes left in the Pennsylvania state soccer semifinals. His Camp Hill team faced a 1-0 deficit to Kutztown when a handball was called in the goal area to set up a make-or-break penalty kick.
Daly was the Lions’ go-to player in this situation, so he floated to that end of the field, still not believing what just happened. He was playing the game of his life and Camp Hill was in command of the game, just not on the scoreboard.
The season came down to one shot. His shot. Whatever was about to happen, Daly knew he would never forget it.
A teammate hushed the crowd, and a full moon shined overhead as Daly lined up from six yards away. The crowd fell silent as Daly battled the voices in his own head and the magnitude of it all, he said, nearly brought him to tears.
“The pressure was crazy,” he recalled. “With all the emotions, I felt like crying. It was such a big moment. If I don’t make it, we’re not going to score. We’re not meant to score if I don’t score on this kick. And I’m exhausted. I’ve been running a lot.”
Daly took aim at his usual spot in the lower left corner and struck with near-perfection to bury the equalizer. Madness ensued, and all Daly could think to do was sprint.
“I just started running,” Daly said. “I made it and everyone erupted, and I ran back to my teammates. I never felt anything like it. It was magical. I was fired up, too. We had so many chances. We were dominating these guys. We were ready to destroy them, to score another and end it.”
Camp Hill won the game on penalty kicks and went on to beat Sewickley Academy, 4-1, in the state finals to put an exclamation point on their magical season.
The shot meant something even more to Daly and his family. His mother, Joanne, passed away in a tragic accident when Colin was young, but her spirit was felt on this night. She was watching over the game, his father said.
“We felt the pressure of the entire season, whatever legacy you’re going to have at Camp Hill, you’re going to be remembered as the kid who missed the kick or the kid who made the kick,” Dan Daly said.
“You couldn’t write a better script. The moon was sitting there, bright. I felt like it was Joanne sitting there watching over the whole game.”
Daly played his entire high school soccer career as the mature veteran, the cranky old man, even when he was an underclassmen. He brought fiery leadership when Camp Hill needed it the most and was a huge part of one of the great athletic achievements in the school’s recent history.
Daly has since continued his soccer journey at Juniata College, where he’s a starter and young leader for the Eagles. As a defensive midfielder, Daly is right where he wants to be: in a spot where he can influence the game — and his teammates — on both ends of the field.
“I love it because I like leading,” Daly said. “I like being the focus. From holding mid, I can take charge of the defense a little bit, set an example, then I can still get involved in the attack. I’m in good central position where I can influence everyone around the field. I can influence defenders because I can pass to them, the forward, everyone on the field.”
Daly first committed to California University of Pennsylvania but grew uneasy with that decision as communication went cold with the coaching staff. He reopened his recruitment and landed on the best possible fit at Juniata, a school that can push him even harder as a student.
“I went back there, and I was happy,” Daly said. “It’s much better for me academically, which is good because I think Cal U would have bored me a little bit.”
As a soccer player and student, Daly is focused on growth in all areas of his life. He has worked hard to break out of a shell where he was perhaps TOO independent and not as focused as he should be on making social connections. The classroom part of his education, as it always has, should take care of itself. Daly is a natural.
“I’m definitely going to make a conscious effort,” Daly said. “I’m not the same person I used to be. I’m definitely going to talk to people, push myself and meet people.”
Through all the challenges of his youth, Daly has grown quickly and remained an integral part of his family structure. They do everything together and enjoy hiking, riding bikes and enjoying the outdoors. Dan Daly married Jennifer Ragonese in 2012 and brought a new energy and sense of completeness to the Daly household.
Jennifer was a gift from God, Dan Daly said.
“I said, ‘Look, God, if you can take Joanne away in this miraculous accident, you can provide somebody equally good in my life that would love the kids the way Joanne did,’” Dan said. “Within 4-5 days, I met Jennifer. Joanne sent her my way. I really feel like Joanne and Jennifer are so much alike, it’s not even funny.”
Where he was once charged with playing a pivotal role in raising his younger sisters, Ava and Olivia, Colin Daly got a gift of his own: the luxury of focusing on himself and his own future, which is brighter than ever.
“He’s been so good,” Dan Daly said. “He’s been so pleasant for me and so good for me. He’s been such an easy kid to raise. I got lucky. I really did.”
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