TRUMBULL — Autumn Murphy was no different than many of the other girls lacrosse players that show up to the first day of practice at St. Joseph as freshman: unknown to the coach and without any experience.
It did not take Murphy very long to make a positive impression.
“Autumn is just a great athlete,” said Leeland Gray, the Cadets’ coach. “She’s just a natural. She just didn’t have any stick skills.”
Murphy, a junior, has emerged as one of the Cadets’ better offensive players, but what makes her story stand out is her background: Murphy is a long-time decorated cheerleader who recently earned All-State honors for the third straight year.
“I needed a spring sport to play,” said Murphy. “I didn’t want to do nothing but something to keep in shape. Some of my friends had played lacrosse and encouraged me to try it.”
Murphy, with just over a year of experience due to missing last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has made a meteoric rise in a sport that is among the best played in the FCIAC, with many long-time dominant powers. She has 12 goals, nine assists and 12 ground balls thus far, is playing on a club team and is prepared the abandon the sport she has excelled at since elementary school to hopefully play lacrosse in college.
“I was surprised I did well at the beginning,” Murphy said. “I started on JV and there were a lot of new players so I didn’t feel like the outcast. I just worked very hard on my stickwork to get catching and throwing down so I could progress to the varsity.”
Murphy immediately took to cheerleading and found instant success. She is following the same path with her new sport, even though she lacks the experience of the league’s top players.
“I just love lacrosse,” Murphy said. “I think I love playing lacrosse because it’s so new to me. I love my team and we are all just so close and practices are so fun. I was surprised I picked it up so well. I played soccer, which is just kicking a ball. I never thought I’d be able to pick it up as quickly as I did.”
Murphy, who lives in Shelton, began cheering in the 4th grade. Her youth cheer team won nationals four times. When Murphy arrived at St. Joseph she gave up soccer, which she had played since she was four, to stick with cheerleading.
“I just like cheering at football games and basketball games and having a close team,” Murphy said. “I was good at tumbling and stunting. When I was younger I was really tiny so it was easier to throw me in the air.”
Murphy’s upward trajectory continued at St. Joseph, which led to her earning All-State honors.
“I was really surprised when I made it as a freshman,” Murphy recalled. “I was so excited. Sophomore year was very exciting again and the same this year.”
Gray had no idea about Murphy’s background, though he was unsurprised because her athleticism made an immediate impression.
“She really drives to the goal and is very aggressive,” Gray said. “I’ve coached for 10 years, the last five at the high school, and you typically know in the first few minutes whether the player has it or doesn’t have the it factor. She clearly has it.”
Gray said if Murphy maintains her level of improvement she is skilled enough to play at a top 25 Division III school. Murphy would also be recruited as a cheerleader. Not so long ago there would have been only one option and an easy choice.
Murphy has been a member of the Nor’easter club team, which has helped accelerate her progress.
“I want to see how this season goes,” Murphy said. “I’m probably leaning more to playing lacrosse in college. It’s probably easier to get recruited playing for both my high school and a club team and the coaches at Nor’easter know a lot of college coaches.”
Asked if she ever thought after arriving at St. Joseph she would find a sport that interested her and that she would be good enough in to surpass cheerleading as a college option, Murphy smiled.
“I never thought this would happen,” she said. “Playing lacrosse as a freshman, I was just doing it to do it. I didn’t think I’d pick it up like I did or have the opportunity to play lacrosse in college. It’s very shocking to me.”