Love of soccer leads Curran to Naval Academy

All Meggie Curran has ever really wanted to do is play soccer. Since the second grade, it has been her greatest passion. Sure, she participated in other sports in high school like swimming, diving and track and field -- but, as she puts it, those were "just fun things to do." She simply had to continue playing soccer after high school. The when and the where didn't really matter.

That is, until she accompanied her father, who like his father is an Army graduate, to his 30-year reunion at West Point. "I just saw the camaraderie between him and his classmates," Curran, 21, recalls. "I didn't know if I wanted to be in the military or not, but I knew I wanted that kind of camaraderie in 30 years. The connections [associated with graduating from a military academy] are never ending."

Curran was heavily recruited while playing for Our Lady of Good Counsel High School (Wheaton, Md.) by such celebrated athletic schools as the University of Virginia and Penn State. Yet after her father's reunion, the decision to attend and play soccer at Navy was easy. Since matriculating to the Naval Academy, Curran has set school records for single-season and career assists, evolving from a prolific goal scorer as a freshman and sophomore into one of the most versatile forwards in the Patriot League as a senior.

"She started as more of a goal scorer, but now she creates many of our goals," says 14th year women's head soccer coach, Carin Gabarra. "Most of the goals we score, Meggie has a hand in. She's always been a team player -- she just does what it takes to win."

In Curran's final season, winning is precisely what the Navy women are doing. In bursting out to a 5-0 start with shutouts of Davidson, Binghamton, Stetson and Jacksonville, as well as a 5-1 win against Butler on Sunday, Navy appears to have its best team since the Mids notched a 17-5-1 record and reached the NCAA Tournament during Curran's freshman year. Curran remembers that season fondly, since that was also her great friend Stacy Finley's senior year. Finley died from encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, less than a year after graduating.

"My freshman year I really respected [Stacy]," says Curran. "I found a diary recently and saw that I wrote about her all the time. After the season, we became really good friends. We talked almost every day even after she graduated in 2004. I was the closest to her on the team – she was my mentor."

Since Finley's death in March of 2005, Curran has honored her friend and mentor by wearing her No. 14 jersey. Curran is the only Navy soccer player to wear Finley's jersey number since she passed away.

"Stacy was one of the most talented, decorated players in our program's history," says Gabarra, who coached Finley and Curran during the 2003-04 season. "Meggie was one of Stacy's best friends, so it was obvious to everyone that she should wear Stacy's old number. The legacy Stacy left here is that the most important thing was her teammates, and how everyone on the team treated each other. Meggie is very similar in that way."

Not only does Curran wear her fallen friend's jersey, but she is also matching Finley's level of success on the field. In the season's first game, Curran broke the Navy women's soccer record for career assists with numbers 28 and 29 of her career. She has since added another assist, as well as two goals in the first four games, to improve her career totals to 28 goals and 30 assists -- and counting. Last season Curran completed her transformation into a more complete player; she went from being the team's leading goal scorer her sophomore year to breaking the single-season record for assists with 14, earning First-Team All-Patriot League recognition for a second consecutive year. But none of those accolades can match what representing the Naval Academy means to Curran.

"All of us have tons of pride in not just wearing the [Navy] jersey, but in wearing the uniform when we're not playing," says Curran. "When we go against other schools, they respect us."

Curran admits that the stress of being a student-athlete at a military academy can often be arduous – she pulls frequent late nights to stay on top of her 20-credit hour semesters – but says all the hard work is worth it once she hits the practice or playing field. "I love it," she says. "I can't wait to get to the field every day."

Although this will be Curran's last season of college soccer, she plans to "definitely continue playing after college no matter where I am." On track to graduate in May, Curran will likely attend flight school in Pensacola, Fla., in hopes of becoming a pilot. "I want to become Goose from 'Top Gun,'" she jokes. And she hopes flight school includes an intramural or club soccer league.

As was the case four years ago, the where and when do not matter to Curran – just as long as she's able to play soccer.

Chris Preston is a staff writer for the Shelburne News. He can be reached at ChrisPreston@shelburnenews.com.