It doesn’t feel like 25 years. Somewhere along the line, the days turned into weeks, blurring together for Missy Meharg. Her field hockey teams have won national titles and ACC crowns. She’s produced Olympians, watching them in Beijing and taking part in the NBC broadcast of this year’s field hockey competition from New York. But in times of reflection, what she remembers most are the women who have passed through her program, the athletes who became far more, the Terrapins who make simply showing up worthwhile.
Maryland will hold a 25th-year celebration for Meharg on Friday, when her current team — featuring players who weren’t even born when she began coaching at Maryland — hosts Boston College at 7 p.m. There will be a “blackout” among fans and a postgame tailgate with cake. The trophies from Meharg’s seven national championships will make their way onto the artificial turf, joined by the alumni of whom Meharg has grown so proud.
Her web of influence stretches to U-Mass. with second-year Coach Carla Tagliente, to London, where Keli Smith Puzo and Katie O’Donnell played for Team USA in the Olympics, to lawyers and pediatricians in New York City, and even to her own back yard. Both O’Donnell, the most decorated player in Terps history, and Dina Rizzo, a 2002 graduate, are on Meharg’s staff.
“We’ve got a niche here that’s just so comfortable,” Meharg said. “They’re my family now. These women I had an opportunity to, through their families believing in Maryland and choosing to come here and play as national champions, I think winning creates a culture of trust and admiration. We’ve been able to do this here and that’s very rewarding.
“Am I slowing down? Well, what I’m doing is encouraging other people to coach, and mentoring through them.”
Of course, Meharg has received offers elsewhere. Multiple from Ivy League programs. Some from the West Coast. But something keeps driving her back to College Park. Every time she gets an offer, Meharg says, she finds herself more in love with Maryland.
Once, a Big Ten school made its pitch inside a local sports restaurant. When Meharg walked inside, she saw a poster, her face superimposed onto a team picture. That freaked her out. She’d prefer to avoid the spotlight, to work hard and remain competitive without drawing attention to her success.
“Ah, that is not for me,” Meharg said. “That’s what I like. I just like to live a very separate life than what I do here.”
She enjoys walking along the water near her Severna Park property, or spending time with the two sons she adopted from Russia 15 years ago. One is a sophomore at Maryland, looking to join a fraternity, so Meharg came to the field Thursday with a car filled with dress ties.
He’s also taking a Russian immersion course. If he becomes proficient enough at the language, Meharg said, they’ll go to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He would be her interpreter.
Over the summer, Meharg spent three weeks in New York broadcasting Olympic field hockey, a job she accepted five days before leading the Terps to a second consecutive national championship.
Once Athletic Director Kevin Anderson came on board, she began further involvement in the administrative side. Meharg currently leads the university’s coaches’ group, sits on the athletic council and was recently elected to the University Senate, the first coach ever to hold such a position.
“I think any teacher that loves teaching or a coach that is treated as well as I’ve been treated, no it doesn’t feel like 25 years,” Meharg said. “It’s the quality of the place. It’s sharing naturally diverse, a tolerant, hard-working, humble culture in all facets of the university.”
When asked if she still maintains the same level of competitive drive, the one she discovered while playing at Delaware in the 1980s, Meharg turned to her grade-school lessons. She took seven years of Latin before ninth grade and still knows that the root of “compete” is cum petere, or “to strive and seek together.”
Together. That’s the key. Her elementary school believed in equal playing time for athletes, discouraging the superstar mentality with a holistic approach to sports. As a coach, it’s less about being competitive herself so much as how can she instill a competitive nature in her players every day.
This year, the Terps are doing it with a bobblehead.
After each practice, Meharg honors the player of the practice. In past years, the player would receive a mug, or a cup or a turtle to keep until the next practice. This year, they have a bobblehead of Dwight Schrute from NBC’s “The Office.”
“We’re coming to the office this year,” Meharg said, as if she hadn’t taken care of business for each of the past 24 years, too.