McClelland named Observer Female Athlete of Year — Standout soccer, basketball player becomes third straight Kardinal and 7th overall

Meagan McClelland wasted no time when she was asked how old she was when she first started playing soccer.

“I was three years old,” McClelland boldly said. “I was already playing (Kearny) Rec (Recreation) soccer when I was four years old. I was always one of the youngest kids out there.”

In fact, the recent Kearny High School graduate got a chance to play highly competitive club soccer with the highly competitive Players Development Academy program when she was just four years old.

And she knew nothing else but being a goalkeeper.

“I loved it,” McClelland said. “I loved it right away. I was able to use my hands. Instead of scoring goals, I was saving them and loved that. As I got older, I knew that I had a chance to be a good goalie.”

McClelland became so proficient in net that she earned a chance to play at the highest level imaginable, getting invited to play with her age group on the national level with the United States National Team.


2004-2005 Janine Davis, Queen of Peace

2005-2006 Kelly Rauco, Nutley

2006-2007 Courtney Keegan, Queen of Peace

2007-2008 Allyson Dyl, Kearny

2008-2009 Cassie Indri, Lyndhurst

2009-2010 Tara Fisher, North Arlington

2010-2011 Janitza Aquino, Kearny

2011-2012 Stefanie Gomes, Kearny

2012-2013 Camila Alonso, Lyndhurst

2013-2014 Grace Montgomery, Nutley and Nicole Kelly, Kearny

2014-2015 Carly Anderson, Nutley

2015-2016 Amber Crispin, Kearny

2016-2017 Lily Durning, Kearny

2017-2018 Meagan McClelland, Kearny 

McClelland earned spots with Team USA at the 15-and-under and 17-and-under levels. She participated with Team USA in the U17 World Cup in 2016. McClelland traveled the globe for Team USA, going Asia, Spain, Cyprus, England, Switzerland, Jordan and China during her days with the national team.

“The first camp with the national team was in Michigan and everything was so different,” McClelland said. “Traveling on my own was hard, but I think it was harder on my Mom (Coleen). She was much more worried than I was. But still, it was tough.”

Now, McClelland is an experienced world traveler, all because of soccer, all because of a sport she played since she was practically just out of diapers.

“I had to mature much quicker than most,” McClelland said. “I mean, I was out there traveling on my own at 15. But I think that helped me as an athlete. I just absorbed everything.”

McClelland became a basketball player just a little later than she did in soccer.

“I guess I was in fourth grade,” McClelland said. “And basketball was first a really bad experience for me. I didn’t like it at all. I felt like I was a ball hog. I had the ball all the time.”

In fact, McClelland was just about ready to walk away from basketball, if not for the insistence of her gym teacher.

“It was Mr. (Keith) Severino who told me to stick with basketball,” McClelland said. “It was a small gym class and he saw that I was pretty athletic. He talked me into trying out for the team. I tried out and I ended up loving it.”

With that, McClelland became a two-sport athlete. As it turned out, she became one of the very best multi-sport female athletes in the history of Kearny High School.

“I actually didn’t see that coming at all,” McClelland said. “I really didn’t expect it.”

But veteran Kearny head girls’ basketball coach Jody Hill saw it.

Hill took a notice of McClelland while Meagan was in middle school. They developed a strong relationship, one that saw Hill nurture McClelland as a basketball player.

“I think we all knew that soccer was her top sport,” Hill said. “But Meg is an amazing basketball player. She’s tremendous in both sports. Her versatility is amazing. She can handle every facet of the game, both offensively and defensively. She ended up leading us right across the stat sheet. Her stamina was amazing. She never lost her intensity level. She always competed at a high level.”

McClelland was not able to compete for Kearny High School’s soccer program this season, due to NJSIAA rules and regulations that prohibit athletes from competing on the national level as well as the high school level.

“But she was at everything,” said Kearny head girls’ soccer coach Stefanee Pace Kivelhan. “She was out there every single day. It was like having a second assistant coach. She worked with our goalkeepers and was a big voice. The other girls respect Meg so much. I think everyone wanted her to play this year. She could have backed out and stayed away, but she wanted to be out there. Having her involved as a teammate to boost morale really meant a lot.”

In basketball, McClelland had a year that most players simply dream about. She led the Kardinals in practically every single category, leading the Kardinals to a 22-6 record, setting a school record for wins in a year. McClelland averaged 20.2 points per game, averaged 5.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists and almost four steals per game. She ended her career with more than 1,400 points over her four varsity seasons _ and missed about 10 games over the last two years due to her commitments and travel with the U.S. National Soccer team.

“She was fun to watch,” Hill said. “She had a tremendous passion for playing and she also had this tremendous toughness about her. I never had to worry about Meagan. She always showed up and gave her best. She always gave her ‘A’ game. You would think because she was so committed to soccer that she wouldn’t be that way in basketball. But she was just as committed. She had the ability to dominate games and it would be absolutely scary if she truly just dedicated herself to one sport.”

For her incredible ability and dedication to the two sports, McClelland has been selected as The Observer Female Athlete of the Year for the 2017-2018 scholastic sports season.

McClelland became the seventh Kearny girl to receive the year-end honor that has been given out annually for the last 14 years. McClelland becomes the third consecutive Kearny girl to receive the award, joining Amber Crispin (2015-2016) and Lily Durning (last year).

Other Kardinal recipients include Allyson Dyl (2007-2008), Janitza Aquino (2010-2011), Stefanie Gomes (2011-2012) and Nicole Kelly (2013-2014, co-winner along with Grace Montgomery of Nutley).

But of all the past winners, there has been none more deserving than McClelland, who truly is in a class by herself. There have been other great Kearny athletes, but only one Meagan McClelland.

“I think her ability is very natural,” Hill said. “I think that’s very unique. Ever since she was very young, things came fairly easy to her. She was always a star. And she was a tremendous leader, like having another coach on the floor. She had a drive, a competitive nature that most kids just don’t have. It’s not easy to find.”

Hill believes that McClelland could have been a college basketball player, but McClelland has elected to accept a scholarship to play collegiately at Rutgers in New Brunswick, playing for Kearny native Mike O’Neill, much like Kivlehan did in her collegiate days.

“If she wanted to, she could have played college basketball, no question,” Hill said. “Scouts always asked me if she wanted to play. I think she’s going to have a great soccer career.”

“She has a great opportunity to do well at Rutgers,” Kivlehan said. “She’s going to do well at Rutgers.”

Hill said that McClelland’s personality helped her tremendously.

“She’s also so well liked,” Hill said. “She always had a smile on her face. Sometimes, she got tough on her teammates, but they all listened to her.”

McClelland said that the two positions _ soccer goalkeeper and basketball point guard _ worked well together.

“I think the basketball playmaking, I was able to bring that to the soccer field,” McClelland said. “Sometimes, running on the court, I felt like a goalie, truly being in control and doing things. I think both sports go together so well. A lot of it is leadership and communication, telling teammates what to do.”

Needless to say, McClelland has certainly made a permanent impression in Kearny.

“It’s cool to be able to leave my mark,” McClelland said. “It would have broken my heart if I wasn’t able to play both sports. I hope I have inspired other girls to do what I was able to do.”

Hill knows that McClelland will be missed.

“She’s left a tremendous legacy,” Hill said. “She had straight A’s. She traveled the world. She had great success. She’s definitely going to be talked about a lot. She left a tremendous tradition of winning. We were blessed to have her. We’re blessed to have someone like Meghan to look up to and follow.”

And now, it’s on to Rutgers and establishing herself with the Scarlet Knights.

“I’m so excited about that challenge,” McClelland said. “I can’t wait. It’s going to happen so soon.”

Like within the next few weeks, but this time, McClelland heads off to a new horizon with a title in hand _ that being The Observer Female Athlete of the Year.

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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.”