Meagan McClelland (Courtesy of Rutgers University Athletics)

Meagan McClelland looks back as she prepares for her final season at Rutgers

Growing up, Meagan McClelland began playing sports from a young age. She was part of rec teams for soccer and softball as soon as she could. At the age of six, she began playing for PDA, where her love for soccer grew, leading her to play at Rutgers, where she is preparing for her final season.

GROWING UP IN NEW JERSEY

The first team McClelland played for was a rec soccer team coached by her mom called Kids Academy. It was learning the basics, but at that moment, it truly showed her that soccer was what she loved.

When she switched to play for PDA to become more committed to soccer, it was still about fun. McClelland mentioned that “... the prestigious club was just me playing soccer, I still was having fun, but it was in a high-level environment with other girls my age who were also very good.”

Being alongside other girls who were around the same age, traveling together, and playing on a consistent basis taught McClelland how to hold herself accountable and learn at the highest level. Beyond that, it taught her real love for the game and exposure to how fast-paced soccer could be going into the future.

The culture of PDA was about playing to get to the next level. Around the age of fourteen, McClelland remembers seeing friends getting called up to youth national team camps. They would return and everyone would pester them with questions about what it was like and did they enjoy it. Looking back on that, she said,

“When I was younger, I used to always want to be on the national team. And it started at U-14. And obviously, I wasn't part of it then. But I was aware of camps going on at all."

She attributes a lot of her success at Rutgers and at the national level to things learned at a young age playing in this high-intensity environment.

JOURNEY AT RUTGERS

For McClelland, collegiate soccer was always in the picture, but she was never set on one school. From a young age and as she got closer to making her decision, she focused on a program that was good for soccer and had an excellent reputation for education. Rutgers offered all of those things: a family environment with players and local family support. 

Rutgers is truly a family, not just between the athletes on the field but with their families. McClelland discussed how there is support at every game, including away games from their families. The heart of the team is how local it is because so many players have grown up watching this program and are now leading it into a history-making era. On that she said, "...Seeing other schools who may not have the same environment, we don't realize how important it is to be able to talk to our parents after a win or be able to, you know, cry to our parents shoulders after a loss in a big game."

Meagan McClelland on Signing Day (Courtesy of @KardsAthletics)

A big key to a successful team is strong leaders, dedication to each other, and support on and off the field, all of those things which McClelland spoke highly of the Rutgers program. As a fifth-year graduate student and captain on this team, she has learned many long-term life skills. From being a nervous freshman keeper to earning a starting spot and now being able to lead has been a journey of its own. 

Being a leader is challenging because so many players enter and leave a program, all of whom learn in different ways. McClelland mentioned that learning how to captain a range of people has given her an important skill set to take into the future with her. 

Last season she captained the team and led them to the Final Four after making crucial saves in a penalty shootout against Arkansas. The win sent Rutgers women's soccer to the Final Four for the first time since 2015, making even more history for this Scarlet Knights team.

REPRESENTING THE UNITED STATES

Getting your first call up is always so surreal and exciting. McClelland looked fondly on the moment when the call up to the U-17s came, remembering bugging her mom about hopefully getting the call. After her PDA team won the national championship, the call came a few weeks later and the hard work paid off. 

Seeing friends getting called up from a young age only made her strive to work harder. She focused on soccer with the goal of getting a call-up. Since her first call-up, McClelland has gotten consistent calls to represent various levels of the United States teams. 

Meagan McClelland (Courtesy of Rutgers University Athletics)

Going into her most recent camp with the U-23s, McClelland spoke about it being exciting but nerve-wracking, especially since they were playing against the Portland Thorns of the NWSL in the preseason tournament. On the team she said, "I feel like the U-23s are made up of all girls who are in college, but a lot of us decided to do our fifth year. So it was kind of nice to be able to experience what the next level will be like."

Although the scoreline did not end in their favor, she spoke about how they truly played their best. It was a learning experience on things to take back to Rutgers for one last season but also about what she wants to focus on with the professional level ahead of her. 

WHAT'S NEXT FOR HER

McClelland is fully focused on feeling out the team this spring season in preparation for the fall. She plans to finish her Master's program for digital marketing while having a great final season for this team. Her eyes are set on Rutgers, wanting to make even more history this year and hopefully make it back to the Women's College Cup. Going into her final season at Rutgers, she hopes to continue to grow as a player and leader. 

"I kind of just want to continue to grow as a player, try to do my best and you know, perform the best I can at the college level, spend the last season with my teammates, all those things."

After college she aspires to play professional soccer, whether that ends up being domestically or internationally. Ultimately, McClelland is looking forward to leading Rutgers into this final season surrounded by a team that is truly family.

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