The 2022 season will mark Missy Meharg’s 35th as the head coach of the Maryland field hockey team. Last October, Meharg became the third Division I field hockey coach to win 600 games. She has won seven national championships and appeared in 19 Final Fours during her time at Maryland.
Former Maryland players Kasey Tapman Asper (2011-2015), Brooke Cabrera (2010-2014) and Christine Knauss (2009-2013) spoke to PressBox’s Luke Jackson about what makes Meharg so successful. All three were part of at least one national title team. Tapman Asper is now an assistant coach on Meharg’s staff.
PressBox: What makes Meharg special? Why has she been so successful at Maryland?
Kasey Tapman Asper: I would say it’s how she surrounds everyone. She makes the team feel like a family and she really implements that as a culture here at Maryland. When you kind of [create] that balance of having your family around you and academics and social life, everything else just comes to play. She really just draws in really talented players, but at the same time, I just think she’s inspirational on the field. She just gives this great energy all the time and people want to play for her, so I think that’s why she’s so successful.
Brooke Cabrera: I’ll never forget the day I stepped on campus and the first time I met her. I went to shake her hand and she kind of pushed it away and gave me a hug and just said that we’re a family here. That was the moment that I knew I belonged at Maryland and that I wanted to be there. I just felt the love that she [gives off]. She’s just a very powerful leader because she cares and it’s so genuine. She’s a very special person. She definitely takes her duties beyond just coaching on the field and it transcends into every facet of your life on and off the field.
PressBox: How has Meharg stood the test of time throughout her career?
Brooke Cabrera: It’s like with anything. You always have to be inquisitive, curious, hungry to learn and really innovative. You can look at photos of field hockey in the ’90s and it’s outdated pads and different rules. You have to be able to grow with the game and adapt. She’s just done such a good job because of the people she surrounds herself with. … She likes to be challenged, and I think that’s the mark of a powerful and talented leader because she empowers everyone around her and they all challenge each other collectively. That’s what lifts everybody up.
Christine Knauss: She’s just always trying to be better, always trying to be on the edge of what field hockey is and where it’s going in the future. In terms of building teams and bringing competitors and really strong teams together, she’s also looking at the rules and the way the rules are going and set plays and where they’re going. She’s always thinking about field hockey and what we could do better and how to win continuously. She’s not afraid to do new things. She’s not afraid to step outside of her comfort zone to stay competitive.
PressBox: How did you develop such a special relationship with Meharg?
Kasey Tapman Asper: I just think our relationship has grown to another level [as coaches]. She’s more than just a colleague. She’s a dear friend of mine. I have so much respect for her. She’s definitely someone I really look up to and she’s a role model. … I never really left the area, but we say it a lot — it’s the saying, “Once a Terp, always a Terp.” The Terps just run through my veins. Just being able to … be coached by Missy was awesome, but now having that next role of learning technical and tactical stuff from her, I just think there’s no better person in this country to learn from, to grow from and be my mentor.
Brooke Cabrera: I actually didn’t see the field until my junior year because I redshirted my freshman [year] and I medical redshirted my sophomore [year]. … I think back on if I had quit before making it to my [redshirt] senior year when I got my starting season, it would have all really been for nothing. My whole experience would have been tainted. Having said that, even though I wasn’t playing on the field, my senior year — not my redshirt — I was captain of the team. So it was a really interesting dynamic being a captain that wasn’t playing on the field, but also just to go back to Missy’s credit, she looks and she really analyzes the group dynamic and looks at what works for people and I’m a pretty natural leader. She was very supportive of my captainship as a result. I just think because of how loving and compassionate and genuine she is, that’s what made it worth all of the pain and suffering through practice and not playing for so long.
PressBox: Is there a story involving you and Meharg that resonates to this day?
Kasey Tapman Asper: There’s times when I’ve been on the field as a coach with her, and she will instantly change something and nine out of 10 times it’s going to be right. She goes with her gut feeling, and I think that’s a great [trait] because if the plan’s not working … she’s not afraid to go and make mistakes. That is one thing that I have learned from her over the years. It actually happened in the 2011 Final Four. She made a game plan to beat [Old Dominion]. They had a five-man midfield system and she rotated Janessa Pope in there and just completely sat the board down in front of us and said, “This is the plan. If we stick to it, we will win this game.” They beat us twice that season already. This was our third time playing them in the Final Four. We came out, stuck to the plan and we won, 4-0, and went to the national championship to play [North] Carolina.
Christine Knauss: She’s just so supportive time and time again, on the field and through different life changes. We go through a lot in life, and she’s been there to support me and lots of others through some really challenging things. … I was actually part of two national championship teams, [including] 2010, when we won at home against UNC in double overtime. Obviously, that was so memorable winning at home, having such a huge home crowd, having the Maryland band there. I’ll never forget standing on the field after we won by our scoreboard in front of the band singing our fight song. That’s a big memory.
PressBox: How has Meharg helped you in life outside of sports?
Brooke Cabrera: One of her biggest things was, “Always start with fundamentals.” When we would practice, it would be the little touches and the simple things, so even having the discipline of a practice like that and always being very diligent and being methodical about how you prepare your body and your mind and everything to be the best athlete you can be, that has all paid me back tenfold in the working world because I’m in a competitive environment. I need to be a team player. I need to have leadership skills. I need to be able to communicate. All of that I kind of had a little bit inherently, but Maryland and being in a Division I national championship program helped mold that and I’m forever grateful for it.
Christine Knauss: My time with Missy and playing field hockey for her really impacted what I thought that I could do with my life and my career. She’s such a leader. She is just constantly improving herself and getting better and better. That’s such a great example to follow when you’re a young woman and she’s accomplished so much and it’s just by continuing to be competitive in all ways as a career and on the sports field. Just having that influence and mentorship, that I can call her whenever and she’ll help me work through things and lots of players do look to her for guidance in their careers. She’s just an incredible mentor.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics