It was April 3, and Melanie Meara was enjoying the best statistical day of her lacrosse career. But in one of those bitter irony type of situations, it also turned out to be the worst day as well.
The senior center-midfielder had a monster 10-point game with eight goals and two assists in Hamilton West’s 12-11 home victory over J.P. Stevens. But before the game ended, she would exit with a high upper ankle sprain that would leave her watching from the sidelines for the next two weeks.
“I went up for a draw, got the ball and turned to get away from the girl,” Meara said. “On my way down, I landed on it wrong. I fell down, and the game kept going. I didn’t know what to do, but I felt it pop, and knew something happened. It didn’t feel right, I couldn’t put weight on it.”
Thus, a blistering start that included 18 goals in the first three games, was put on hold. And anyone who knows Meara knows she did not enjoy the vacation.
“I was very frustrated not being able to play,” she said. “Watching your team play, not being out there with them is one of the hardest things an athlete has to go through. I would mess around with my stick at practice and on the sidelines, and it made me more anxious to run out there and play with them.”
Finally, on April 17, Meara returned against Ewing. Despite a 12-8 Hornets loss, Melanie proved she did not lose her scoring touch by scoring five goals. She wasn’t bragging about it, however.
“I feel like I definitely didn’t play the best I can,” Meara said. “I worked the rust out. I was getting frustrated that I wasn’t playing to my full potential, but I know it will only get better from here.”
Nonetheless, Meara will be playing hurt for the rest of the season.
“I couldn’t wait to get back on the field,” she said. “I wasn’t fully pain free, but from here out my ankle is going to be an ongoing problem, so I need to just learn to play with it. I was definitely both nervous and cautious playing on it again, especially while taking the draws.”
It is that kind of attitude that makes Meara such a leader. The fact she can score in bunches doesn’t hurt either. One only need look at the scores to see her value to the Hornets offense. Hamilton averaged 7.4 goals in the games she played and 2.5 in the ones she missed.
Coach Kerryn Campbell saw a silver lining during her absence, but was still glad to get her back.
“I feel like a lot of the girls depend on her, so playing without her it actually allowed the girls to realize that they are capable of playing the sport,” Campbell said. “But they do look for Mel, because Mel is a playmaker for us as well.”
Meara is one of West’s traditional latecomers to the sport, but she quickly made up for lost time. In grade school, she did everything but lacrosse, as she participated in soccer, basketball, softball, cheer, gymnastics and dance. Soccer was her main sport as she played travel for the Hamilton Wildcats, Hibernians and GAK.
She stuck with soccer and basketball at West in ninth grade and decided to follow her sister, Morgan, and a group of other soccer players to the lacrosse team, which was then coached by soccer coach Anthony Tessein.
“It was completely frustrating at first, picking up a new sport I knew nothing about, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything,” Meara said. “I would get nervous, and I wasn’t the best at first, but with practice and motivation, I was able to pick it up a lot quicker than I expected.”
Meara got limited playing time as a freshman and scored one goal, but picked up the nickname “Coast-to-Coast” due to her ability to quickly get from one end of the field to the other. She appreciated the opportunity to play with Morgan until big sister got a serious head injury.
“Having your best friend on the field with you is the best thing in the world and an incredible experience I’ll always remember,” Meara said. “After my sister’s career-ending injury, I learned never to take sports for granted, I truly value every second I can play.”
Meara, with encouragement from her parents, took to lacrosse after one season and began attending overnight camps and clinics, played in winter leagues and made the vaunted Tri-State lacrosse team heading into her junior year.
“I was always one of the worst players at these clinics and on my travel team, but the only way to get better is by playing with people who are better than you,” Meara said. “I definitely looked up to these girls, and it determined me to be a better player.”
Campbell took over the Hornets during Meara’s sophomore year, when Meara got 10 goals and two assists. She improved to 29 goals as a junior and was on pace for well over that mark this season. The coach feels her midfielder’s outside lacrosse activities have aided the entire team.
“Mel has been a huge leader even as a sophomore and a junior and now, especially as a senior,” Campbell said. “She’s taken things she’s learned from her outside teams and brought it to our team—things like stick drills. She helps girls with their stick work and individually, she’s always very calm with them in practice in trying to get the team to be the best it can be.”
“I take my leadership role on this team serious and with a lot of respect for being selected as captain,” Meara said. “I approach each game by just constantly playing my hardest. If I make a mistake, just get over it and not let it get in my head, although it often does until I shake it off.”
Despite her stature on the team, Meara does not put herself above anyone else.
“She’s a hard worker; she listens to any kind of direction you give her,” Campbell said. “If she’s hurt, she doesn’t let you know which isn’t necessarily a good thing. But she will do anything to play that game, and she will be anything you need her to be for the team. She’s just the definition of what a team player is, she works hard, she’s non-stop. She has great personality in general, and you know how much she wants it. She’s very competitive.”
The coach feels that Meara contains “the whole package” when it comes to ability. She is solid on the draw, quick, has strong stick skills and a great shot.
She also has a fierce hunger to score goals.
“Ooohhh yes,” Campbell said. “That describes her to a T.”
Meara feels much of her success comes from being smart about the game, knowing when to drive, when to pull the ball out, or when to cut.
“I think a huge thing that helps me is confidence,” she said. “In lacrosse, you need to trust yourself and your teammates. I tell myself to shoot to score, not to just shoot. Coach Campbell just has to yell the word ‘Think!’ and I know to focus on my shot and be smart.”
Meara is smart beyond the lacrosse field. Aside from three sports, she is part of the yearbook committee and in DECA, FBLA and NHS. She helps her dad, Mark, with Hamilton Little Lads baseball and has a weekend catering job at Mercer Oaks.
Meara continued to play soccer and basketball at Hamilton, but lacrosse has firmly supplanted them as her favorite sport. So much so that she will be playing for Stevenson University in Maryland next year, joining Julia Gagliardi and Lashay Ross as Tessein/Campbell products playing college lacrosse.
Stevenson is a Division III program where athletics are highly regarded, and Meara said that will make her feel as if she is in a Division I environment. She chose it for its atmosphere and academics after also talking to coaches at several other schools, including Kutztown and Susquehanna.
“Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be able to play in college, after only starting lacrosse freshman year,” Meara said. “I could totally just see myself being part of their team. I contacted their coach and asked them to come to one of my Tri-State tournaments, and everything took off from there. I couldn’t have achieved so much if it wasn’t for the constant support from my coaches, and more importantly, my family.”
Campbell feels players like Meara positively impact her program by giving underclassmen something to strive for.
“When you see girls playing in college,” the coach said, “it just tells the girls, ‘Look, you can do this. Even though you’re not starting until your freshman year in high school, can do this. You can get the skills and work hard, just look at where these people have come from.’ These girls can be looked at as role models.”
In Meara’s case, she was a role model long before college came calling.