By Martin Cleary
When Curtis Conley was a young boy, he would often take his lacrosse stick and ball into his backyard or go out onto his driveway. In that solitude, he drifted into a game, always a critical one inside his head.
Conley would create a turnover, pick up a loose ball and fire an exceptional pass to set up the game-deciding goal. There were times he would make himself that man of the moment. He would visualize playing at the highest level of the game.
In seven months, Conley is anticipating that dream of playing with the best in North America becoming a reality as a defender with the Colorado Mammoth for the 2021-22 National Lacrosse League season.
Conley, who studies history and plays lacrosse at Trent University, was selected in the third round, 40th overall in the 2020 NLL draft. Teammate Curtis Romanchych was picked by Toronto Rock (fourth round, 67th). Trent has sent nine players to the NLL.
After 14 years of lacrosse with the Gloucester Griffins, Nepean Knights, Peterborough Lakers, Toronto Beaches, Whitby Steelhawks and Trent University Excalibur, Conley had been recognized for his speed and technically sound game by the NLL.
“Being selected in the NLL (Draft) could be described as a dream come true, honestly,” Conley wrote in an email interview. “As a kid growing up, it’s something you act out in the driveway or in the backyard, while you’re fooling around.
“So, being able to have that become a reality was a special moment. I had been able to talk to a few different teams prior to the NLL Draft, but it is obviously something that doesn’t feel real until you hear your name called.”
Conley is well known for his speed, strength and awareness of the game. Those attributes will be necessary for him to earn a berth on the Colorado roster. Despite no 2020 lacrosse season at Trent because of the pandemic, he has worked hard on his game.
He has used his time well with individual training and practising as well as picking up his stick and ball, if he can find an empty field. He also is preparing for the physical battles of pro lacrosse by training at Ottawa’s Gladiator Strength and Conditioning.
If he makes the Mammoth roster, one of the players he’ll likely be defending against is Stittsville’s Callum Crawford, a player he admired and was influenced by as a youth. Crawford has been one of the stars of the NLL game for the past decade.
Crawford most recently played for the New England Black Wolves, but the team has moved and become the Albany FireWolves. In 2019-20, he led the NLL in goals (33) and points (76). He is ranked fourth in career assists (693), fifth in career points (1,103) and ninth in career goals (410).
“Luckily, while I was in minor (lacrosse), I had the opportunity to learn a lot from Callum, when he would show up and help coach at our team’s practices,” added Conley, who was Defender of the Year and an All-Canadian during his 2019 season at Trent.
“The opportunity to learn from Callum and talk (with) him about the experiences he had was definitely a large influence on my lacrosse career.”
Trent head coach Mark Farthing is impressed with Conley not only as a lacrosse player, but also as an individual. He feels Conley’s overall game suits him well to transition into the professional game.
“His style of play and what he does on the lacrosse floor could not match better to the current state of our game. He is dedicated to the game and will evolve alongside it well, once he establishes himself as a pro,” Farthing wrote in an email.
Farthing added Conley is tenacious, smart, has top-level speed, will be a tough matchup for offensive players, and is effective in the transition game.
“And the scary part may be that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg in what he can do,” added Farthing, who also considers Conley a solid, overall person.
“He is the kind of person you want involved with what you are doing. We are lucky to have him as part of our lacrosse program and helping drive the team culture, which we pride ourselves on.
“He is a great example for our incoming players of how to conduct yourself, and how to be effective (in) our program. As he reaches new heights in his career, this also serves as a good example for others on our team looking to reach that level.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
HELP SHINE A LIGHT ON LOCAL SPORT! The Ottawa Sports Pages has proudly provided a voice for local sport for over 10 years, but we need your help to continue another 10 and beyond. Please donate to the Ottawa Sports Pages Fund today.