There’s no question who owns the busiest schedule in Kearny High School.
That distinction belongs to junior Meagan McClelland, who juggles playing soccer and basketball while maintaining high grades in the classroom.
“It gets really hard sometimes,” said McClelland, the talented goalkeeper who will leave this week to join the United States National Under 18 soccer team in Birmingham, England, for 11 days. “I miss a month of the season in the beginning of the season for soccer and I miss time now. I do feel bad about it and I feel like I let the team down a little. But I’m getting the chance of a lifetime, so it is bittersweet.”
McClelland has never been to England before, so it will be a treat. The United States National Team will face Norway and two national teams from England during their tour of Great Britain.
“It’s an awesome opportunity,” McClelland said. “I have to take advantage of the opportunity every time I get it.”
McClelland feels awful that she will leave her basketball team in the middle of the season, in particular, the Hudson County Tournament game Thursday against St. Anthony.
But before she departed, McClelland made sure she made her mark on the hardwood.
Over the last two weeks, McClelland has been downright unstoppable for the Kardinals, averaging almost 23 points per game.
McClelland started her tear with a 20-point performance against Union City, then had 19 in a win over Dickinson, exploded for a season-high 31 points in a huge win over neighboring rival Harrison, had 22 in a loss to Marist and added 22 in a 44-41 win over Bayonne last Friday, the school’s first-ever win against Bayonne, the defending county champion.
During her streak, McClelland has averaged six steals, six rebounds and three assists to go along with her 23 points.
For her efforts, McClelland has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Kearny head girls’ basketball coach Jody Hill said she is never shocked at what McClelland can do on the floor.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Hill said. “I always have very high expectations of Meagan. I expected her to have a great season and she’s living up to those expectations. I know she has high expectations of herself.”
The Kardinals (14-6) hit the county tournament having won six of their last seven games, thanks to a strong showing from McClelland.
“It’s amazing all that she does,” Hill said. “She’s very good at time management. She will have practice with us, then jump in the car and go to soccer practice. She never lets fatigue become a factor. And she’s a straight A student in school. She’s determined not to allow anything effect either sport.”
McClelland said that she likes the hectic pace.
“If I didn’t have it, I’d be bored,” McClelland said. “I don’t know what it’s like not to play hard. I go hard all the time.”
McClelland was asked if there was a reason for her scoring outburst.
“I’ve been making my shots and getting to the free throw line,” McClelland said. “I’ve been more aggressive in going to the basket. Once I get to the line, it’s when I start racking up points. I usually go to the basket a lot and that’s when I get fouled. We also move the ball around well as a team. Since I’m the point guard, that usually starts with me. But we all just share the ball well and move the ball well.”
McClelland said that she has a lot of confidence now playing basketball.
“I think it helps that we’re all really close,” McClelland said. “We all have each other’s back. There’s a measure of confidence that comes with having my friends on the court with me. I love it that I play basketball with my best friends. It’s a lot of fun.”
McClelland has become more of a vocal leader as well.
“I feel as the point guard that it’s my responsibility,” McClelland said. “I have to get the players on the court in the right position. It’s a lot like being the goalkeeper. I do the same thing there. I try to help everyone out and I’m getting used to it now. I don’t mind it at all. I like being a leader.”
However, McClelland knows that basketball is not her bread and butter. She already has committed to play at Rutgers University for Kearny native Mike O’Neill and the Scarlet Knights in September of 2018.
For now, she’s still a Kearny Kardinal at heart.
“It’s a huge weight off my shoulders, knowing where I’m going to college,” said McClelland, who gave a verbal commitment to Rutgers, but cannot officially sign until next year. “It’s awesome knowing I’m going there. One of the reasons why I like Rutgers is that the coach is from Kearny. But it’s a good school and I feel good about my choice.”
McClelland vows to return to the Kardinals’ basketball team in time for the state playoffs.
“It’s a great time of year for our team,” McClelland said. “We have a chance to go pretty far. I have all the faith in the world in my team.”
“She plays with such high energy,” Hill said. “She’s a natural competitor who won’t let anything get in her way. It’s a little heartbreaking for us that she’s leaving us now. I know it’s very difficult for her, because she loves her teammates. She’s a great player in both sports. It just happened that she played soccer before she played basketball.”
But it’s a gift for the U.S. National Soccer Team, another gift from “Soccertown, USA.”
Kearny junior Meagan McClelland. Photo by Jim Hague