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By Jeff White (
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– In 2018, the University of Virginia field hockey team advanced to the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight season, but finished 9-10 after losing to Princeton in the first round.
Not since 2011 had the Cavaliers posted a losing record, and the players who returned from that team, including Makayla Gallen, had no intention of slogging through another season like that.
“This year we were like, ‘That’s never happening again,’ ” Gallen recalled.
The Wahoos have backed up those words. Heading into its regular-season finale, Virginia has won six straight games and is ranked No. 6 nationally. UVA (14-3 overall, 3-2 ACC) meets No. 20 Wake Forest (8-9, 0-5) at 6 p.m. Friday in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Of the Cavaliers’ defeats, only one was by more than a single goal. That was on Sept. 27, when top-ranked North Carolina blanked Virginia 5-0 at the Turf Field.
“We’ve grown a lot from that game,” said Gallen, one of numerous UVA student-athletes from the Philadelphia area.
Gallen, a junior striker, has played a pivotal role in Virginia’s resurgence. With six goals, she’s tied with Anzel Viljoen and Laura Janssen for the team lead, and only Viljoenn (20) has more points than Gallen (14).
“She’s a leader, for sure,” UVA head coach Michele Madison said of Gallen. “She takes care of her team in every way possible. On the field she’s just an exceptional talent. She has amazing speed. She’s probably one of the fastest players in Division I with the ball. She’s able to get the ball into the attacking circle and create attacking opportunities for us.”
Speed is in Gallen’s genes. Her oldest brother, Tyler, was a sprinter at Saint Joseph’s University in Philly. Another brother, Troy, played wide receiver at the University of Delaware before a shoulder injury ended his football career. He enrolled at Villanova as a graduate transfer and competed as a sprinter on its track & field team in 2018-19.
Their parents were athletes, too. Michael Gallen played football at Widener University. Sharon Gallen was a record-setting runner at Cardinal O’Hara High in Springfield, Pa., and later ran track at Mount St. Mary’s.
“Makayla has beautiful running form,” Madison said, “and she’s very fast off the mark. So she’s explosive, but she also has a fifth gear that she can turn on. A lot of people are fast, but she’s fast with the ball, and that’s not easy to do.”
Gallen is from Glen Mills, Pa., about 30 miles west of Philadelphia. Like her parents, she graduated from Cardinal O’Hara, where she ran track before “field hockey consumed my life,” Gallen said, laughing.
She has no family ties to UVA, but as a girl she visited Charlottesville when her brother Troy played in a lacrosse tournament there. “I got to see Virginia, and I loved it,” Gallen recalled.
And so when Madison offered her a scholarship, Gallen didn’t need long to decide. She committed to UVA near the end of her sophomore year at Cardinal O’Hara.
“She was pretty much, ‘This is where I want to come,’ ” Madison said, “and I was like, ‘That’s easy.’ “
The most powerful conferences in NCAA field hockey, Gallen said, are the ACC and the Big Ten. 
“I feel like the ACC is the quick, fast, skilled players,” the 5-foot-5 Gallen said. “The Big Ten has these big, strong girls, and when we play against them, it’s just a completely different style. So I always felt like I was an ACC player, and UVA was the school I wanted to go to. So when I got that offer, that was what I wanted.”
Gallen said she’s never regretted her decision. “I wouldn’t change anything about it. I love the hockey here, the academics here, the atmosphere.”
She’s majoring in media studies, with a minor in entrepreneurship (and concentration in social entrepreneurship) through the McIntire School of Commerce. 
Gallen likes to stay busy. She helps coach the Focus Field Hockey Club in Charlottesville, along with teammates Lizzy Shim, Taylor Henriksen and Erin Shanahan, and she’s involved in the Student Athlete Mentor (SAM) program and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) at the University.
She’s also worked in UVA Athletics’ video services department, with which she became familiar through one of her classes, Sports Media Production.
“Makayla was pretty green when she came into it,” said Ryan Mahanes, UVA’s director of video services (post production and recruiting). “She expressed interest to us, and we have an interview process that we go through. You could tell that she didn’t have a ton of experience, but that she was very motivated and very willing to learn.”
Gallen was one of 12 students in the class, taught by Anna Katherine Clay, chosen to work in the video services department. Each assisted with six live events, for which the students received class credit. They then had opportunities to work as paid freelancers in the department.
“I started last spring, and I just thought it was so much fun,” Gallen said. “I think I like the adrenaline of having to be in the moment when everything’s happening, especially for replay.”
Mahanes said: “The thing that really helps the student-athletes out is that they’re in this world and they sort of know how it works and they know the schedules that coaches and student-athletes have. It’s harder for them, in that their schedules are so much more restricted [than those of many other students], but by and large I think that the student-athletes, especially here, are super-motivated. They have great time-management skills, and it really allows them to thrive in our environment.”
The Sports Media Production course includes live production and post production components, Mahanes said. In live production, students learn about technical directing, camera work, replay and graphics. In the post production component, students are asked to produce features on UVA student-athletes.
Gallen and classmate Kendall Saville produced a feature on Virginia football star Juan Thornhill and his path to the NFL draft. Gallen and Saville traveled to his hometown of Altavista, shot Thornhill at his draft-night party, and then combined that video with footage of him from the Cavaliers’ pro day in Charlottesville.

“They actually shot a reaction video that we put up on Twitter and used for social media [on the night of the draft],” Mahanes said. “For their feature, they were able to get a couple quick interviews with family and friends down there, and with Juan obviously, and they also interviewed Joey Blount and Bryce Hall. So their feature was more complex than we’ve seen before [from other students].”
Gallen said she enjoys post production work and is excited about continuing to work with video services.
In her sport of choice, she’s represented the United States at the U17 and U19 levels and has been invited to the U21 team selection camp, to be held in December in Manheim, Pa., about 35 miles southeast of Harrisburg. Her UVA teammates Greer Gill and Lauren Hausheer will join her at the U21 camp.
“Field hockey has done so much for me,” Gallen said, “and it’s opened up so many doors and has let me travel the world, really, and I love traveling.”
She’s played in China, England and Germany, among other places. She traveled to Germany with the United States’ U19 team, whose head coach was Ole Keusgen, a UVA assistant.
“He’s from Germany, so it was really cool,” Gallen said. “We got to meet his family, and we did well there.”
Several former UVA standouts have gone on to play for the U.S. national team, and that could be an option for Gallen one day, too.
“If that’s what Makayla wants to do, she can definitely contribute on that level,” Madison said. “She just has to realize her own potential. It’s just still untapped. She has so much more she can do.”