GatorZone.com Senior Writer
Normally, the masked Meagher is darting from side to side protecting the 6-by-6 foot goal cage like a Lady Gaga security guard. In Saturday's 6-4 NCAA Tournament win over Albany, Meagher was forced to play a different kind of role.
She made five saves but most of her time was spent yelling at her teammates. Not for the way they were playing, but acting as a traffic cop for the Gators' defense during long lulls in action as overmatched Albany used a stall tactic to keep the game close.
No big deal.
"With Mikey, I think she is really composed,'' Florida coach Amanda O'Leary said. "She is a smart goalie. She stays focused and concentrates really well. Our win on Saturday was a lot due to her ability just to stay in the game despite the slow play."
Whether Penn State plays up-tempo or tries to slow down Saturday's game like Albany did – a berth to the Final Four is at stake – Florida will rely heavily on Meagher's magic at stopping shots.
The junior from Liverpool, N.Y., serves as the Gators' reliable security blanket. The No. 1-seed Gators (18-2) prefer to play fast and furious, so a turnover can lead to an armed attacker racing Meagher's way.
More often than not Meagher squashes scoring chances as one of the country's top goalkeepers.
"It's really high,'' Gators attacker Ashley Bruns said when asked about the team's confidence in Meagher. "Mikey is a great goalie. Our defense has always been really great, but this year there is just so much more communication and confidence.
"It makes the attackers want to work harder and I think with Mikey there, we're very confident that she is going to come up with some huge saves."
In Florida's three postseason wins – victories over Ohio State and Northwestern in the American Lacrosse Tournament and the victory against Albany – Meagher has surrendered just 15 goals while making 19 saves.
Meagher, named MVP of the ALC Tournament, leads the nation with a .530 save percentage and 6.95 goals-against average. She is one of only four goalies in the country with a save percentage better than .500.
While the Gators dominated Northwestern in the ALC Tournament championship game, both Ohio State and Albany tried to negate some of Florida's potent offensive attack by gaining possession and then stalling.
With every goal at a premium, Meagher not only had to be at her best in goal, but her vocal cords got a workout from making sure the defense was positioned correctly against a surprise shot.
"It's definitely a challenge,'' Meagher said of facing stall tactics. "You just want to make sure you stay up and are communicating to the defense. They are out there running around for minutes at a time.
"I just kind of tell myself to talk positively to think, to keep them up and it helps me stay up to and stay ready for the shot."
In Florida's 20-11 win over the Nittany Lions on April 1, Meagher earned the win over two-time ALC Goalie of the Year Dana Cahill.
Despite her underdog status, Meagher continues to establish herself among the top players in the country. She served as Cara Canington's backup her freshman season but became the primary starter as a sophomore.
She is 15-2 and has 123 saves, six shy of the school record she set a year ago. A different challenge waits Saturday against Penn State (12-6), coming off its first NCAA Tournament win since 1999.
When the teams met in April, Penn State's Mackenzie Cyr (34 goals) did not play. Cyr, leading scorer Molly Fernandez (35 goals) and freshman Maggie McCormick form a dangerous trio for the Nittany Lions.
Meagher expects more shots to come her way than in the past three games, which is the way she likes it.
"At this point we're two different teams than when we played them early in the season,'' Meagher said. "They've grown; we've grown. They have a lot of threats.
"I think we definitely have a lot of confidence. We have been through our ups and downs this season and I think that has helped. We know exactly what we have to do and when to do it and how to do it."
If the Gators could draw up the game plan for both teams, Penn State will come out and challenge Meagher rather than try to slow down the game like Ohio State and Albany did.
"I'm not a fan of the stalling,'' junior midfielder Brittany Dashiell said. "You kind of get yourself in a mode where your body has slowed down. You just have to keep everybody up like Mikey was saying. I know she was talking to me a lot during the game when they would stall. It really helped out. Our team is more of a fast-paced team.''
O'Leary said the Gators are preparing for both styles. If Penn State stalls, they'll be ready. If the Nittany Lions come out firing, they'll be ready.
Either way she is glad Meagher is on her side with a Final Four berth on the line.
"Mikey has improved tremendously throughout this season,'' O'Leary said. "Mikey has been fantastic in the goal cage. She is a great director of our defense. She's come up with some big saves when necessary."