Thick clouds hover over the Newton Campus Soccer Field like a supersaturated blanket, threatening to rip open at the slightest disturbance and flood the pitch in an instant.
It’s a Sunday afternoon, and Boston College women’s soccer is hosting Providence College. The only one who feels the rain is Friars goalkeeper Kristyn Shea—the Eagles pelt her with a deluge of shots, but the match remains scoreless. All of a sudden, in the 26th minute, BC senior Coco Woeltz springs forward from her defensive position and thunders along the right touchline.
In the middle, McKenzie Meehan jockeys with the Friar defense for position, hunkering down right in front of the goal. Woeltz sends in a beautiful cross, and it zooms juuuust over the top of the Providence defender, right onto the forehead of an awaiting Meehan, as though there were a magnet for the ball hidden somewhere inside her skull. The perfect setup, the perfect assist, the perfect player to finish it off.
She missed the net wide right.
“That’s the one I wish I could have back,” Meehan said, her soft, calculating voice hinting at regret. The Eagles eventually fell to the Friars 3-2 in double-overtime despite a pair of goals from the junior forward, her eighth and ninth in 10 games. “At that point, my sharpness and finishing weren’t where they used to be,” she said.
The redshirt junior’s mild comportment and gentle physical characteristics mirror her playing style on the pitch. At 5-foot-5, she’s not an overpowering force. She bides her time patiently, ready to strike in a flash—like lightning—before the opposition can even make sense of what just happened.
A set of sleepy eyes plays tricks on defenders and darts around, this way and that, Terminator-esque, scanning the 22-woman geometry. Well-mannered and respectful, she has the ego of a bucket hat, but there’s a quiet air of confidence about her that sets the tone for the entire Eagles attack.
On July 25, 2014, Meehan was back home in Glocester, R.I.—a quaint, little Providence suburb of about 10,000 residents—for a brief spell to spend some time with her family. Since January, she had been playing off-and-on with the United States under-20 team, competing in World Cup qualifying matches and participating in week-long camps every month thereafter—a tough balancing act for a student-athlete committed to both her college team and her academics.
Missing nearly a quarter of class time would put any college student behind the eightball, not to mention one playing soccer at the international level. Now, back in the comfy confines of her hometown, it was time for a break. But not an eight-month break.
Meehan was upstairs in her bedroom when, suddenly, a mirror that had been there for years decided it wanted a change of scenery. It came down with a crash and sliced the back of her right heel. “At first I thought it was just a cut because it didn’t hurt that much,” Meehan said. The blood wouldn’t stop gushing, though, and her mom drove her to the emergency room, where the doctor removed the initial piece of glass and sewed everything back up.
Those stitches proved premature. An X-ray from the hospital visit revealed that there were two smaller pieces of glass stuck in the back of her Achilles. Meehan’s mom drove her to the office of a family friend, a podiatrist, and he removed the shards. At this point, Meehan couldn’t put any pressure on her right foot, so the podiatrist suggested that she get an MRI the following Monday.
“I knew it wasn’t just a cut, but I was hoping it was just a very small tear,” Meehan said.
The rupture was anything but small. Three days later, with assistant coach Mikey LaVigne by her side, Meehan’s worst nightmare became reality. “The doctor was very upfront with me,” she said. “He told me, ‘Your Achilles is 85 percent torn.’” If the sky was the limit for Meehan before, an ominous cloud was beginning to form overhead.
The road back would be a long one, but Meehan threw her full weight into a strenuous physical therapy regimen. Throw those daily physical therapy sessions into the equation of Meehan’s life—including two trips per week to Newton-Wellesley Hospital—and the algebra of her time management turned into mind-numbing calculus.
Crosses like these are tough to carry alone, but Meehan had herself a Simon of Cyrene. Her identical twin sister, Madison, a senior defender this year, dealt with knee complications of her own, which sidelined her for most of the 2014-15 season. While both sisters wish they could have contributed to the team’s success on the field, it was comforting to have one another on the bench.
Before a mid-September match against Harvard last season, they were both healthy enough to lightly pass the ball around to one another.
Then-senior Casey Morrison was recovering from knee problems too, so the three upperclassmen circled up and passed the ball around like they were back in Glocester. “It was the first time in awhile that we had played with a soccer ball, so we all shared in the excitement,” Madison said.
About three months later, Meehan’s Achilles had progressed according to plan, and she had begun running and taking part in select agility drills. She remembers one particular day at practice in the Alumni Stadium bubble as a defining moment in her rehabilitation.
The idea occurred to her out of nowhere—spontaneity has a way of giving birth to new memories. “I’m just going to sprint across the field,” Meehan told head coach Alison Foley.
So she turned, fixed those sly, determined eyes on the far sideline, and took flight. As in, fighter jet flying over Gillette Stadium flight. Coaches watched in anxious amazement. Her teammates noticed too. “Wow, you’re fast!” they said afterward.
A month and a half later, Meehan made her season debut against the University of Massachusetts, coming on as a sub around the 70th minute. When the final whistle blew, she felt as though her lungs had shriveled to the size of a Craisin, but it didn’t matter. Meehan was back in business.
Or so she thought. That was February of 2015, and a quick month and a half later, Meehan suffered another setback, this time in the form of a broken foot that would take three months to heal. The rays of sunshine peeking through the cracks retreated back behind their cloudy curtain. “That set back all the progress I had made,” Meehan said, eyes cast toward the floor.
The injury bug has a curious way of suckering onto the same athletes again and again, leeching away their strength one stinging pinch at a time, diminishing their will to get back to that level of seeming invincibility. Once it latches on, it’s nearly impossible to get that thing off.
Meehan hasn’t just successfully shooed that gnat away from her right foot. She’s seized it between the fingers, thrown it to the ground, and stomped on it until its chemical makeup has become one and the same with the pavement.
Fourteen months and two brutal foot injuries later, McKenzie Meehan is taking the women’s soccer world by storm, reminding fans across the nation why she is one of the best young players in the country. Meehan has 10 goals in 13 games and has hit stride starting alongside junior striker Hayley Dowd, who plays up top in the Eagles’ new 4-4-1-1 formation—a positioning system Foley implemented beginning with the first ACC match against Louisville. Her squad is 2-0-1 since the switch and 8-3-1 overall, on the cusp of cracking into the nation’s top-25.
At the center of that new formation is Meehan, who feels like she’s playing as well as ever. She continues to work on certain things with that damned right foot—after all, the injury bug leaves a nasty bite mark.
“I’m still working on some of the strength,” she said. “It’s there now, but I do it just to make sure.” The road to full recovery is nearing its end. There’s a clear sky in sight.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor