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By Jeff White (
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– She reached the midpoint of her college soccer career having played 1,122 minutes in two seasons, an average of 25.5 per game.
That was not, Meghan McCool admitted this week, how she envisioned her career unfolding when she enrolled at the University of Virginia in the summer of 2016.
“It was very hard for me at times,” McCool recalled, “because I think my competitive side kicked in and I wanted to have a bigger role on the team than I did. Even though I still contributed, it wasn’t really what I was looking for.
“It was definitely humbling, but it was also one of the hardest things I had to mentally go through, solely because of my competitive nature, and I didn’t want to be on the bench. I wanted to be on the field, like everyone else does.”
UVA head coach Steve Swanson knew McCool was frustrated.
“It was tough,” Swanson said. “You see a lot of players in that situation, and they’re going to quit, they’re not going to push through, they’re not going to do what they need to do to have the impact they want to have. 
“I’ve seen some players that take responsibility, and some [blame others] and never take responsibility. I think we knew what we were getting in Meghan, and we knew that she would maybe need a little time [to blossom]. But I wouldn’t trade her for anybody right now.”
A 5-8 senior forward from Glenside, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, McCool has 14 points (seven goals) this season. Only Diana Ordonez (20 points on nine goals and two assists) has more for top-ranked UVA (8-0), which opens ACC play Friday at 7 p.m. against Wake Forest (5-2-1) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“I don’t think Meghan would ever describe herself as being this technically superior player, although she’s improved a lot,” Swanson said, “but she’s got a heart that’s bigger than most I’ve ever coached, and she’s not scared. She’s brave. She’s just absolutely a warrior in the box, and I think for us that’s been a huge thing.”
McCool became a starter last season and scored nine goals, five of which were game-winners. She finished second on the team with 19 points.
She expected to have a small role on the team as a freshman, but when little changed for her the next season, McCool said, “it got a lot harder, because it was two years in a row. But I definitely learned not to be complacent. I think it’s made me work a lot harder.”
McCool, who has played for U.S. national teams in several age groups, said she never considered starting fresh at another school.
“I absolutely love UVA, so I think that helped a lot,” she said. “I love Steve, and the team’s amazing, so that all helped, but it definitely weighed on me mentally.”
Was she confident her time was coming?
“I told myself it was coming,” McCool said, laughing. “I had to keep myself going for that, because that was ultimately my goal, but sometimes I doubted it. Once I was given an opportunity, I just had to build a little bit of confidence, and once that happened things fell into line a little bit better.”
The turning point, Swanson said, was the game-winning goal McCool scored on Oct. 29, 2017, in a comeback victory over Wake Forest in the ACC quarterfinals, a rocket from 25 yards in the 74th minute. It was her first goal as a Cavalier.

Heading into postseason that year, Swanson said, he had a long conversation with McCool, “because I knew how bothered she was. She just wanted to do well and she wanted to contribute. And then she scored that banger against Wake Forest, and that was it. She never looked back after that. I think that gave her some confidence.”
McCool starred in the Penn Fusion club program, where her teammates included Phoebe McClernon, who’s now an All-ACC defender at UVA. McCool also played for her high school team at Chestnut Hill Academy, for which she scored 136 goals in four varsity seasons.
“The competition was slim,” she said, smiling.
She committed to UVA as a sophomore in high school, and McClernon, who attended Notre Dame Academy, followed suit a day later. In Charlottesville, they’ve lived together for three years.
“I knew Phoebe pretty much the whole time I was growing up,” said McCool, who’s from a family of athletes.
At UVA, McCool is majoring in American studies, with a minor in health and well-being, which is offered in the Curry School of Education and Human Development.
She enjoys her major, McCool said, “but my minor speaks to me a lot more.” She’s interested in a career in health care, perhaps on the administrative side, “which may bring me back to school. We’ll see.”
Professional soccer is another possibility, though she’s in no hurry to leave UVA. The National Women’s Soccer League season starts in the spring, and many elite college players accelerate their studies to graduate in December.
McCool is content to graduate in May. “I love Charlottesville,” she said. “I can’t keep my family away. They’re always here, which is a good thing. I love them. It’s a pretty special place, and it’s very different from where I’m from.
“It’s little slower-paced. It’s obviously beautiful, and there’s so much to do. It’s just different, but I love it.”
After her slow start, she’s become an influential figure in the program. Not only is McCool a prolific goal-scorer, she’s one of the Cavaliers’ captains, along with classmate Zoe Morse.
“She’s such a good leader,” Swanson said. “She sets the right example. She’s always doing the right things, and you can always count on her. You can always count on her to be prepared and doing everything that she needs to do to be ready for games.”
McCool said: “My parents all along have emphasized what it means to be a leader and how important it is, and also the responsibilities that come with it. It’s definitely something I pride myself on. Zoe’s an amazing person. I think we work very well together. We lived together first year. We’re very compatible. So it definitely means a lot to me.”
On the field, McCool has meshed well with Ordonez, a 5-11 forward who’s one of the nation’s top freshmen. Ordonez has missed Virginia’s past two games with a foot injury but is expected back soon.
“D is a specimen, because of her size and strength,” McCool said. “That’s not really normal in the women’s game, and she can use her body so well, which I think has also benefited me, because last year I played in the middle. I’m playing in the middle right now [with Ordonez out], but typically I’ll be on the left. Having her in the middle, she can take some more of the hits, and I think it gives the rest of us a little bit more space to create. I think she’s been a great addition.
“Our offensive line is very interchangeable. We all switch, and she definitely brings something new and more creative that I think is going to really help us this year.”
So will McCool’s myriad contributions.
“I give her a ton of credit,” Swanson said. “When you look at Meghan on the field, it’s not like a Morgan Brian, it’s not like a Sinead Farrelly, or even an Alexa Spaanstra. They’re different players. But her impact on her team has been remarkable, and she’s been every bit as important as these players.”