Former UConn women’s soccer coach Len Tsantiris had two, clear-cut requirements for his players: They needed to be fit and they needed to fight. Regan Schiappa didn’t just fit that mold; she was the poster child for it.
Even though the Huskies spent plenty of time during practice working on fitness, Schiappa found herself at the track one day her sophomore year getting in some “extra conditioning” as she put it. In fact, her on-the-side workout was so intense that she caught the eye of an onlooker — former UConn track coach JJ Clark. He approached her and asked if she’d consider walking on to the track team.
It didn’t take her long to come to a decision.
“I thought about for a night and I was like, why not? I love to workout, I love to run,” Schiappa said.
However, she needed to get the approval of her new head coach, Margaret Rodriguez, before anything was finalized. Schiappa headed down into the women’s soccer offices and sat down opposite Rodriguez.
“I’ve been thinking of this for a little bit...” Schiappa started.
Rodriguez began to get nervous when Schiappa noticed and quickly interjected.
“No, no, no, I’m not quitting,” she assured her coach. Schiappa explained what happened and told her that she wanted to do it. Rodriguez wasn’t going to stand in her way.
“She’s a kid that’s not on scholarship for me. At the end of the day if she has talents and she can use it, it’s fitness for her,” Rodriguez said.
However, there were a few caveats that came with the agreement. Rodriguez made sure soccer was still Schiappa’s top priority, which she quickly agreed with. On top of that, the coach set up two conditions: Schiappa needed to stay healthy and keep her grades up.
So far, she’s held up her end of the bargain, though the adjustment to playing two sports at once was new for Schiappa at first. Even though she also played basketball and softball growing up, she decided to focus exclusively on soccer once she got to high school. While some athletes run track in the winter and/or the spring to stay in shape for their main sport, that wasn’t the case for Schiappa. She didn’t have any exposure to track before UConn.
“I just fell into track,” Schiappa said. “I never ran track before college. Everything (was new).”
After two outdoor seasons and one indoor season, Schiappa has noticed a difference on the soccer field.
“It’s definitely helped my endurance but the most it’s affected me is my speed,” she said. “I think I’ve gotten a lot faster working with certain forms of running. Getting high knees in is the biggest thing that’s helped me.”
With the debate raging in the youth sports level about whether or not kids should play multiple sports or specialize in one, Schiappa finds herself in the middle. She went the specialization route in high school but suddenly finds herself as a dual-sport athlete. While hindsight is always 20-20, Schiappa would do things differently if she had the chance.
“I would’ve done more,” she said. “I mean, I played lacrosse my freshman year in high school but I just really wanted to achieve the goal of playing college soccer so that was the driving force there.”
“[Track] helps my body a lot because soccer is a lot of stop and go, it’s really hard on you legs,” Schiappa continued. “Obviously, running is hard on your legs but it’s a different type of movement. It’s a different type of focus on each muscle. I think it’s beneficial to do two sports.”
For Schiappa, versatility has become her calling card. On the soccer team, she’s spent time at both forward and fullback where she’s helped the team win games by scoring late goals and by protecting late leads. On the track team, her events range from the shorter 4x400m relay to the 800m all the way up to the 1500m. Being flexible, not just in sports but in her entire life, is a necessity.
“(In the Spring) I would have track in the morning, then I’d go to soccer, then I’d have another track practice in the afternoon. Track, class, soccer, class, track, it’s a lot but I enjoy it so much,” she said.
That heavy workload could soon lighten up. On Thursday, Schiappa will play in what may be her final collegiate soccer game (if UConn doesn’t make the AAC Tournament), where she’ll also be honored before the game on Senior Night.
Her decision to come to UConn was almost a forgone conclusion. Once the Huskies showed interest, Schiappa wanted to follow her sister, Maddy, who played on the softball team from 2010-14. But once she got to UConn, Regan forged her own path. One that almost didn’t happen, if not for some extra conditioning.