Maryland coach Meharg shining while basking in glow of her sons

November 20, 2008|By RICK MAESE | RICK MAESE,rick.maese@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK - For the fifth time in six seasons, Maryland's field hockey team has reached the final four. There are many reasons for the Terps' consistency, but none as steady and laudable as coach Missy Meharg.

And now, Meharg is ready to share a bit of the secret to her success.

"I wanted to keep the boys and our family out of what it is I do for a living," Meharg says. "The reality is, they've been such a huge part of it that I think it's a good time. They've had such a huge role on our successes."

She's referring to her two sons, Andre, 17, and Genya, 16. Meharg adopted them in 1998 from Russia and has been juggling the demands of a full-time coach and a mother ever since.

Here's what's especially interesting: Meharg says learning to become a mother has helped her to become a better coach. Her program's success seems to bear that out. She took over as head coach in 1988, and in her first 10 years, her teams won a national title and two Atlantic Coast Conference titles. Since getting the boys, though, she has won three national titles (1999, 2005 and 2006) and five conference titles.

"I didn't think it would always be easy," Meharg says. "But I think there was something - I don't know if fate's the word - but there were messages that this was something that I was being asked to do. Not only that, but it was also something that was being given to me."

It has been 10 years since Meharg was jogging through her Montgomery County neighborhood. Her pet Westie was at her side, but she felt something else. She sensed something running through the nearby pine trees.

"It was them," she says. "They were following me."

At the time, Andre was only 7 and Genya was 5. They'd been living the two previous years at a Russian orphanage but were in Maryland for eight weeks through a program called Bridge of Hope. They were staying with a neighbor of Meharg's, awaiting adoption by a family in Winston-Salem, N.C.

But soon that adoption fell through. Meharg had grown closer to the boys and faced an important decision.

"I've tried to live my life without any regrets," she says. "I was confident that if I didn't jump on this message, I would have regrets."

At the time, in addition to coaching the Terps, she'd been playing internationally for a decade and coaching with the U.S. national team for five years. She'd been so busy in her sport that motherhood kind of sneaked up on her.

"I always wanted to be a mom. I wanted to be a parent. I like to listen; I like to watch people grow, improve in something," she says. "But the reality of what I was doing in my life at the time didn't put me in a position to be a mom. Everything I did was completely committed to playing and then to coaching. Then this message came and it hit me - this is what my calling is."

Within a year, Meharg was in Russia. She brought home two young boys, neither of whom spoke any English.

"There was no question that Missy could do it from the start," said Carol Miller, Delaware's field hockey coach and Meharg's former teammate there. "Missy is so charismatic and has a wonderful life force. It just made sense for her to be able to share that with two other people."

The boys almost instantly changed not just Meharg's perspective, but her coaching style, too.

"She was always a great coach," says Dina Rizzo, who played at Maryland from 1998 to 2001 and has been on the U.S. national team since 2002. "But there's more to life than field hockey. It's your job, your career; you want to be competitive. But having that balance in life, that's what makes you successful."

In the years since, Meharg says she's become a better listener and a stronger leader. She has more patience and tolerance with her players. She's an experienced text-messenger and is able to separate her life as a coach with her life as a mom. She's careful with her time and with her players', stressing quality over quantity.

"It's nice to win championships," she says. "But we talk about their quality of life, how much you love sport, doing things really well. That's what's important. What you take from sport here is what you'll take into the rest of your life."

Andre is a senior at a boarding school in Utah and plans on playing lacrosse next year in college. Genya is a sophomore at Severna Park, where he's on the soccer team. Both have been fixtures around Maryland games for the past decade. Win or lose this weekend, Meharg says both sons have helped her get to this point.

"There's something bigger than winning. We try to identify that with our players," she says, "and the boys have helped me to really identify what that is for me."

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