By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – It may be one of the most unheralded positions in any sport and carries risk of injury like no other. Defending a 7-by-12-foot net with padded gloves and little else to stop a small, hard puck traveling up to 70 miles per hour is all in a day’s work. Then there is the mental aspect where often the game’s outcome is on the line and the difficulty to remain steady and not panic is a must should things go badly.
There is a reason that some in field hockey circles will say that you have to be crazy to be a goalkeeper. Indeed, the role of a field hockey goalkeeper is not for everyone but for Marlborough High School’s Meghan McDonough, it is the position that suits her just perfectly.
McDonough enjoyed a breakout season for the Panthers in 2015 registering 12 shutouts while anchoring the net for her 14-4-4 team that advanced to district quarterfinal competition. She recorded a microscopic goals-against-average of 0.31, second best in Mildand A, and was an on-field and off-field leader.
The transition to admittedly average at her position to overwhelmingly successful did not come easily nor without great effort and McDonough is the first to recognize that to succeed would take significant effort and sacrifice.
“I really fell in love with field hockey in between my junior and senior year,” explained McDonough. “It made me look forward to playing because field hockey before that was just something I did. But I really fell in love with the game. I did club. I did camps. I did all the things I could do to learn and get better and get me out there. It’s something I never did before and I just loved it.
“It’s a whole other feeling of just putting the pads on and being that back line for your team because you know how much your team needs you. They rely on you and need a person behind them that’s strong and will be able to do what needs to be done.”
“Last year we pretty much told her that we needed some extra effort,” said assistant coach DeeDee Rudzinsky. “When the season ended, I think she really realized how good she was. She got some confidence in herself.
“She’s great at practice telling people where to be, where to go, and in a very positive way. She’s our anchor. We have a problem that she’s going to be gone next year and we don’t know what we’re going to do.”
“She started asking questions, starting learning on her own watching videos,” added Panther head coach Angela Chouinard. “She took it upon herself to go to some really good camps this summer and get some professional training and once she saw that she realized she was good. She just wants to get better and better and better and now she’s like our leader that’s not identified as one of our captains.”
McDonough became introduced to field hockey through her older sister, Kaitlyn, currently on the roster for Southern New Hampshire University. She branched out into lacrosse goalkeeping in her junior year and has been a contributor to the Marlborough High varsity squad.
She immersed herself in becoming better at her position and absorbed whatever means of instruction she could muster including training videos and camps including a week-long instruction program at the University of North Carolina. Getting better and helping her team became almost obsessive, her coaches said.
“We have a player that suited up to try out as goalie and Meghan had her in one practice doing it all,” said Rudzinsky. “It was really fun to watch seeing that she had it in her and we knew she had it in her. When she gets positive reinforcement, she finally felt comfortable.
“If we’re in a battle, she’s going to give everything she has and she rises to the challenge. She’s confident in herself now that she knows she can do that. She’s really a sweetheart. To watch someone be so sweet all the time until you put her in the net and she becomes a bear. She’s such a good kid.”
“She’s as calm as a cucumber and I think that’s why she does so well,” said Chouinard. “She gets it. We tell her at games that ‘we need you right now’ and she says ‘yup’ and she’ll stand on her head for this team.”
Helping others is not foreign to McDonough. She is willing to work with younger players whose success will come after her departure from Marlborough High.
“We were all in their place. We were all underclassmen looking up to the seniors,” said McDonough, who has yet to decide where she will attend college. “As a goalie I felt some responsibility in controlling the team and now that I’m a senior, I need to help my team out and help the younger kids so the program can keep thriving in the future.
“I like to think I help motivate others but in a nice way. We’re all out there for the same reasons. We all love the sport and want to win but do our best either way. I’m just there to motivate and help where I can and encourage, but off the field we’re all friends.”