Kearny’s McClelland proving to be two-sport star

The truth be told, Meagan McClelland is a soccer player, first and foremost.

McClelland is a standout goalkeeper for the Kearny High School soccer team and plays club soccer all year round for the prestigious Players Development Academy (PDA), based out of New Brunswick and spearheaded by Kearny native Mike O’Neill, the head women’s soccer coach at Rutgers University.

McClelland has been playing soccer since she was four years old. When she was in third grade, her class held a Secret Santa and she received a pair of goalie gloves as her gift.

“I thought it was awesome,” McClelland said. “I was a goalie for life. I liked it because I was different than everyone else on the field.”

McClelland has been a net minder _ and a very good one at that _ ever since.

However, there’s this other sport that has been getting McClelland some attention lately.

McClelland, a sophomore, is also the point guard on the Kearny girls’ basketball team. She started taking basketball seriously again in seventh grade and has developed into a fine player.

“It sort of came naturally to me,” McClelland said. “I really don’t know how it happened. I learned very quickly.”

That was good news to Kearny High School girls’ head basketball coach Jody Hill.

“As soon as I saw the kid playing around, I knew that she was going to be a good player,” Hill said. “She played on our travel team in seventh and eighth grade and developed quickly.”

Hill believes that there was a main reason for McClelland’s rapid rise as a player.

“She was playing all the time with boys,” Hill said. “So her competitive level set her apart from the others. She likes the challenge of playing with the boys because she’s just a tough, hard-nosed kid.”

McClelland knew that she was gaining a reputation as a fine basketball player.

“I heard it once or twice,” McClelland said. “But I know I’m better at soccer. Maybe if I played basketball when I was younger, I don’t know.”

But that doesn’t mean that McClelland is giving only half of her attention to basketball these days.

“I work hard every day in basketball,” McClelland said. “I mean, every day.”

“Every day, she does something else to impress the coaching staff,” Hill said. “Lately, she has developed a quick release on her shot. She’s getting the ball up there faster. She can catch-and-shoot faster. There’s no hesitation anymore. You can see her go to her left with equal balance. That sets her apart. You don’t know what hand she’s going to shoot it with. I’m overly excited about how quickly she’s developing as a player.”
Over the last five games, McClelland has shown that she is not only an improved scorer, but also a proficient rebounder.

“She’s our point guard, but she’s also our leading rebounder, which should tell you something,” Hill said. “She goes and gets the ball. I think being a soccer goalie gives her an advantage in reaching for the ball. She has a long, lanky body and she’s able to use that body to get rebounds. She has good instincts and good reaction time.”

McClelland started her climb with a 19-point, 10-rebound game in a 38-34 win over Lyndhurst two weeks ago. She continued her ascent with 20 points, six assists and six rebounds in a 59-28 win over St. Dominic Academy, had 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine steals in a 54-28 win over Snyder, had 26 points and 10 rebounds in a 51-40 loss to Lincoln and scored 11 points in a 46-21 loss to Blair Watson and Nutley last Saturday.

For her efforts, McClelland has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

McClelland has noticed the change in her game.

“I’m stronger now,” McClelland said. “I’m also more confident since I developed the strength. I’m able to do things now that I couldn’t do. Being a goalie definitely helps. A lot of the things I do in basketball come from soccer. I’m also more of a leader now and that also comes from being a goalie. I didn’t think I’d get on the boards as much as I am. It’s all helped me become a better basketball player.”

Hill still likes the way McClelland plays basketball over soccer.

“She’s very smart and very coachable,” Hill said. “You tell her something, she just nods her head, ‘Yes,’ and then she goes out and does it. She has a good sense of the game. She’s mixing up when she should drive to the basket and when to pull up and take the short jump shot. She has all these little moves now. It’s been fun watching her develop her game.”

Hill said that McClelland handled her own against Watson, the McDonald’s All-American.

“She loved that challenge of covering Watson,” Hill said. “She said, ‘Let me see what I can do against her.’ She has no fear. She’s not afraid to fail. It’s what coaches dream about. She’s a pure athlete. She’s always going to go the extra yard for her team.”

Hill said that McClelland is an excellent student as well, carrying all A’s in taking Honors classes.

“She takes pride in that in being good in the classroom,” Hill said.

“I want to become either a veterinarian or do something with law, like a detective,” McClelland said. “Something like that.”

But McClelland plans on playing both sports throughout high school, even during a busy club soccer schedule.

“I’m definitely playing basketball all four years,” McClelland said. “I could never do that to Coach Hill.”

And it’s safe to say that she’s enjoying her dual life these days.

“It has been great,” McClelland said. “It’s been a lot of fun. The team is doing better (having won five of their last seven games), so that’s good news. I’m excited to see what lies ahead.”

Oh, and McClelland has already done her first bit of detective work, finding out who it was that sent her the goalie gloves as a Secret Santa eight years ago.

“It was Brendan Thiele (the Kearny resident who is a basketball star at St. Peter’s Prep),” McClelland said. “He gave me the gloves.”

If her prowess in net leads to a college scholarship in a few years, then McClelland will know who to thank.


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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”