The final year of high school provides an opportunity for seniors to enjoy a last go-round of good times with friends and a chance to reflect on accomplishments.
For Meghan Macera, reflection will have to wait. She's too busy right now.
But when she does take time to look back at her four years at Westminster High, Macera will have plenty of highlights to remember.
If she wasn't busy designing the cover of the school's yearbook or performing myriad community service activities, the Westminster senior was scoring overtime goals to win consecutive state championships for the Owls' field hockey team.
Her clutch athletic performances, outstanding academic record, and selfless dedication to her school and community are primary reasons that the Carroll Eagle has named Macera the recipient of its Fall Sports Student-Athlete Award.
Macera's achievements have helped keep a historically successful Westminster field hockey program near the top of state rankings. Since the state tournament began in 1975, the Owls have reached the semifinals 23 times and captured eight state championships.
But entering the 2010 season, Westminster had earned just one state title since 1996. That championship came in 2001, when the Owls shared the Class 4A title with Quince Orchard.
Anchored by Macera, the 2010 team responded with a perfect season that included the Carroll County title. But a state championship was anything but assured when Westminster met Dulaney High in the Class 4A title game. The Owls and Lions battled through two goal-filled halves, heading to overtime with a 4-4 score before Macera fired home the game-winning goal to end Westminster's eight-year title drought.
After losing several standouts from that Class 4A title winner, the Owls weren't expected to compete for the state championship this fall. Westminster failed to defend its county title, losing to Century in its final regular-season game.
"It was a shock," said Mary Rivera, Westminster's sixth-year head coach, of the 1-0 loss to Century. "At that point, they realized that they weren't going to win just by stepping on the field. They understood that we weren't the same team as last year and needed to work a lot harder."
The Owls never lost again, due in large part to Macera's leadership and production.
Westminster swept through the regionals, then advanced to its second straight title game by beating North Harford in a Class 3A state semifinal.
In the championship game, Westminster and Mount Hebron were locked in a scoreless tie at the end of regulation. Neither team scored in the first overtime, but "Macera Magic" made the difference in the second extra period.
Macera took a pass from Maddy Walsh and slammed home the championship-clinching goal … again.
"The two games were completely different," Macera said. "Last year, there was so much scoring. This year, it was more about stickwork and passing, and less about dribbling and running. We know how important conditioning is, and I think we showed it against Mount Hebron."
The Owls probably wouldn't have won another state title without Macera's quiet leadership. Rivera admired the way that her senior star led by example.
"It's how she practices and plays," Rivera said. "Her teammates saw her determination and her desire to win, and they understood that they had to play to that level."
The back-to-back titles erased the frustration of Macera's first two years at Westminster. The Owls lost in the 2008 state semifinals, and were beaten by perennial champion Severna Park in the title game a year later.
But in Macera's junior and senior years, Westminster became the first Carroll team to win consecutive state field hockey championships since the Owl teams of 1984-85.
"We have the same expectations every year, to win the county and go on a long run in the playoffs," said Macera, who led the Owls to a 19-3 record.
"(The older players) had a team goal of bonding with the younger players and boosting team unity," she said. "I knew our younger players were talented. And coach Rivera is a big part of it, always instilling motivation and helping us to have fun."
Along the way, Macera became the county's most dominant player. She led Carroll in scoring as a junior, totaling 25 goals and 10 assists. Macera repeated as scoring champion this fall, with 16 goals and 13 feeds. The senior forward earned first-team All-Metro recognition from The Baltimore Sun for the second consecutive year.
"She was always mature for her age," said Rivera, who played on Westminster's 1996 state title team. "Each year, we piled a little more responsibility on her, and she lived up to our expectations even more than we thought she could."
But Macera won't be playing field hockey in college. On Dec. 8, she signed a national letter of intent to play lacrosse at Virginia Tech.
A member of the CheckHers Elite Lacrosse Club that won the under-15 national title several years ago, Macera will begin her third full season on the Owls' varsity lacrosse team in March. Her Westminster team earned the county championship and was undefeated before losing to Severna Park in last year's Class 4A state title game.
"We didn't play the best that we could (in the championship game)," said Macera, whose younger sister Madi also plays field hockey and lacrosse. "We won't have nearly as many seniors as we did last year, but I'm excited to play again and looking forward to another successful season."
Macera plays indoor lacrosse and soccer during the winter and swims for the Westminster Riding Club during the summer months, but Macera is also heavily involved in her school and community.
She has logged more than 200 hours of community service, volunteering in a wide range of activities. Macera worked as a summer camp counselor with the Boys and Girls Club of Maryland branch in Westminster.
A member of the National Honor Society and the National Art Honor Society, Macera is also the president of Westminster's Girls Athletic Board. Through her involvement in these groups, Macera has volunteered at elementary school summer camps and been a team member for the American Cancer Society's annual Relay for Life walk.
"I know people who have been affected by cancer," she said. "My best friend's dad had cancer, which fortunately wasn't life-threatening. When you see stuff like that happening to other people, it makes you want to help. And that event (Relay for Life) is very emotional."
Her affiliation with CheckHers has given Macera additional opportunities to impact the lives of others. Through that organization, she has served meals at a soup kitchen, put together care packages for U.S. troops and adopted a family for Christmas.
"I know a lot of people who aren't really involved in anything, and that seems unappealing," said Macera, the daughter of Greg and Michele Macera. "I find the extra time to give back, because that's an important thing to me."
Drawn to leadership
Her artistic talents have enhanced several Westminster publications. Macera, an editor of the school yearbook, helped design the cover of The Owl. She also designed the front cover of the agenda books that are carried by each Westminster student, and her work has been displayed in the school's Art Show.
"I've always liked to draw and be creative," Macera said. "Art has been my favorite subject since elementary school (at Friendship Valley). I think art can serve as a stress reliever and an outlet for expression."
Her love of art matches her passion for sports, and Macera will be able to pursue both of her prime interests next year at Virginia Tech. While playing lacrosse for the Hokies, she will study graphic design in the college's School of Art and Design.
"When I went there to visit, it just felt right," Macera said. "The campus is beautiful, and the whole student body seems very connected.
"A few of the girls on the (Virginia Tech) lacrosse team have been in the art program and said that they loved it. It's a time-consuming major, with a lot of projects to complete," she said, "but the coaches were really understanding about the longer hours."
Macera could have chosen to play field hockey in college, but there was never a doubt about what sport she would play at her next destination.
"I weighed my options for field hockey, but lacrosse was always my favorite sport," she said. "I just couldn't think about not playing lacrosse, and I wanted to go to a big Division I school."
While taking a steady regimen of advanced placement and honors courses, Macera has compiled a 3.79 unweighted grade point average (on a 4.0 scale).
Rivera believes that strong organizational skills and a fierce determination have fueled Macera's academic and athletic success.
"When you're a high school athlete playing two sports, you've got to manage your time well," she said. "Meghan just doesn't give up, and she will do anything to not fail."
Macera credits the people around her for having the greatest impact on her success.
"I've always been a self-motivated person," she said. "A lot of that approach has come from my parents, who always set an example and pushed me to be my best.
"I'm an outgoing person who likes to be with other people, and I've volunteered with my friends at places like the Boys and Girls Club. And my coaches are people I've been able to look up to.
"I've been lucky to have a great family, coaches and teachers who have been there and have helped push me through everything."
About this award
Since the fall of 2007, The Eagle has presented this award to a Carroll County student-athlete at the conclusion of the fall, winter and spring sports seasons. The publication also presents an overall Student-Athlete of the Year award at the end of the school year. All student-athletes who compete at the varsity level for a Carroll County public school are eligible for the award, which is based on academic achievement, athletic achievement, and a record of service and good citizenship in the school and community.