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Gators goalkeeper Mikey Meagher is emotional leader for Amanda O'Leary's fourth-year program.

Saturday May 18, 2013Meagher's Play and Personality a Winning Combo

Gators goalkeeper Mikey Meagher is emotional leader for Amanda O'Leary's fourth-year program.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The list of qualities in recruiting an elite goalkeeper includes excellent hand-eye coordination, quick feet and hands, toughness and perhaps most important of all, resiliency.

"You need somebody who is going to rebound because goals are going to be scored,'' Gators lacrosse coach Amanda O'Leary said.

As O'Leary searched the Northeast Corridor for players to add to Florida's roster prior to the program's first season, she stopped in Liverpool, N.Y., to watch Mikey Meagher.

O'Leary could tell Meagher was a promising stopper at the net. That was obvious by the way she played. But what really sold O'Leary on Meagher was the way she interacted with her teammates on the field, and everyone else once she took off her goalie's mask.

"I know that is kind of a strange thing,'' O'Leary said. "People say, 'oh, you don't recruit on personality.' But I feel like the goalkeeping position is so critical. She was really just easy-going and a great personality. She just fit this program."

Good call on O'Leary's part.

Meagher became the first female goaltender to be named a Tewaaraton finalist earlier this month and for the past four years, Meagher has displayed the excellent skills and infectious personality that first caught O'Leary's attention.

The Gators face Syracuse in the Elite Eight on Saturday (2 p.m., Sun Sports) in the Carrier Dome, just a few miles from where Meagher grew up. The winner advances to the Final Four in a rematch of a national semifinal from last year in which Meagher tied a school record with 15 saves in Florida's 14-13 overtime loss to Syracuse.

Since they walked off the field after that loss, the Gators' mission has been to get back to the Final Four. And they have often looked toward Meagher to lead the way.

In Florida's 16-5 win over Denver in the Sweet 16 on Saturday, Meagher made nine saves, including several from point-blank range. She never allowed the Pioneers to mount a run after Florida raced to a 10-1 lead in the game's first 19 minutes.

"She is such an amazing goalie,'' teammate Brittany Dashiell said. "She really hypes up the defense. If she is on her game, then the defense is on their game and if the defense is on their game, we're going to do great things."

Meager ranks fifth in the country with a .504 save percentage and second in goals-against average (6.54). She is the wall that goes up when other teams penetrate deep into Florida's territory.

"She's made the decision quite easy as for who to put in that goal cage,'' O'Leary said.

Meagher served as a backup as a freshman in 2010, but when she got her opportunity to start as a sophomore, she never let it go. Meagher carries a 50-9 record as a starter entering Saturday's showdown with Syracuse.

Considering this is her final season, she also carries a laser-like focus.

"It's one more piece of the puzzle of what we're trying to accomplish,'' Meagher said.

Meagher's transformation from easy-going, playful college senior to the masked wonder starts to take place once she arrives in the locker room prior to a game.

She usually has a song she players over and over. The song varies, but it stays with her the rest of the game.

"Whatever mood I'm in I usually just ride with it,'' she said. "If it is getting a little shaky I sing to myself.''

Said Dashiell: "She gets really pumped up for games."

The rest of the team feeds off Meagher's energy at the net.

"She has a really big leadership role on this team,'' sophomore Shannon Gilroy said. "Everyone goes through her. She knows how to make everyone laugh. She can make everyone focus when we need to focus. And she is just a really good player."

With the Gators one win away from a trip back to the Final Four -- next week at Villanova University near Philadelphia -- the Gators will need to play well and get a break here or there to claim the program's first national title in only its fourth season of existence.

They have the talent to get the job done. Thanks to Meagher they also have the attitude.

"Mikey is a gamer,'' O'Leary said. "She just thrives in these big-game environments. We wouldn't be where we are without her. She is so emotional. She carries our team.

"She's an integral part of the success of this program and she has been since the first day she stepped foot on this campus."

 

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