Courtesy of Greensboro College sophomore Woody Wilder
On the eve of the 2012 USA South Women’s Lacrosse Conference Tournament, one thing is on Melissa Gallaher’s mind: closure.
Five months ago, her college soccer career came to an end when the Pride fell to Christopher Newport 1-0 on a bleak afternoon in Martinsville, Virginia.
“Everyone was playing at the top of their game,” Gallaher said. “In my four years, I have never been so close to beating them and the fact that it was my last college soccer game made it so much worse.”
A somber moment for any athlete is when the clock strikes midnight on their career. Luckily for Melissa, her athletic career at Greensboro College was not over–lacrosse was right around the corner.
This spring, Mel has been instrumental for the Pride on her way to garnering First Team All-USA South honors. Gallaher found the back of the net 36 times and assisted on ten other occasions this season. Defensively, the midfielder from Severna Park, Maryland leads the conference in ground balls and caused turnovers.
Her defensive prowess–especially on the soccer pitch delivering crushing tackles–and her dazzling moves offensively have made her a crowd favorite at Pride Field. Students have even developed a chant specifically for these moments.
In the heat of an athletic contest, many athletes block out noise from the patrons on the sidelines, but not Gallaher.
“I absolutely love it,” Gallaher answers in response to her cheer. “Whenever I hear the fans getting rowdy and screaming for us, it just makes me want to run faster and player harder. It takes my game to another level that I could never get without them.”
This higher level for Gallaher leads to consistency on both halves of the field, something women’s lacrosse head coach Robert Bickerstaff takes pleasure in.
“Mel has been as consistent as they get in terms of on the field success.”
Off the field, her work ethic and consistency is parallel to her athletic ability.
“As a person, she has been a pleasure to deal with; she’s fun and personable,” Bickerstaff says. “Mel has a great head on her shoulders.”
Last fall, Gallaher, a biology major, was presented the 2011 Fred Joseph Award–an accolade given to Greensboro College’s top female student athlete. She is also the women’s lacrosse representative for the Student Athletic Advisory Committee.
Ferrum College visited Pride Field earlier this month for Senior Day and Gallaher didn’t disappoint. In a 14-8 win over the Panthers, Gallaher recorded five goals and tallied two assists–not to mention her six ground balls and four caused turnovers.
After the match, a realization sprang into Mel’s mind–her career was coming to a close.
“It wasn’t until the game was over that it truly hit me–this chapter in my life is almost over. I’m so excited to embrace whatever happens next, but it is upsetting that this is the last time I will be playing a collegiate sport and won’t be seeing these girls every day.”
Gallaher had nothing but thankful comments for her teammates who created farewell signs for her and fellow seniors Jackie Farrell and Katie Sporing.
The Pride’s USA South semifinal is against second-seeded Shenandoah is fastly approaching; however, this moment for Gallaher almost was not to be–twice.
“Looking back on Mel’s career, I think about how it could have never happened for us,” Bickerstaff recalls. “Originally, Mel was recruited to play soccer at Greensboro College.”
In high school, Gallaher made a decision to walk away from lacrosse.
“I took two years off from lacrosse my junior and senior years of high school,” Gallaher remembers. “I think being away from the sport for a couple years and coming back made me realize how much I truly enjoy it.”
According to Bickerstaff, “if it weren’t for some of our now alumni who befriended Mel and convinced her to play, we might not be talking about her wonderful career right now.”
Thus, a star was born.
Months later, the star had lost its twinkle. Gallaher had decided to transfer to Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York in the fall of 2010.
“I had a desire to be at a large school because I thought there would be so many more opportunities for me,” Gallaher said. “I had the opportunity to play lacrosse at a Division I level. I thought I would be much happier at a larger school.”
As quickly as she left, Gallaher returned south to Greensboro. Stony Brook just wasn’t the right fit.
“I realized how important the people were at Greensboro and all the amazing relationships I had made, not only with my teammates and friends, but also the professors.”
The academic setting of Greensboro College played a major role in her decision to come back–showing how much of a student-athlete Melissa actually is.
“Being just a number in a class of 400 students versus having real relationships was a huge wake up call for me. We are so fortunate that our professors know us by name, know what we enjoy doing, and that they are so willing to help us both in the classroom and in the real world.”
Word of Gallaher’s impending return spread around campus. Although still an assistant coach at the time, Bickerstaff was initially caught off guard.
“I had written Mel off for the majority of the semester because from what I heard, she was having an okay time.”
When rumors came to fruition, Bickerstaff was ecstatic.
“I can definitely remember a feeling of joy when I received that news. I know all the girls were excited as well.”
Looking back, Gallaher has no ill feelings toward her decision making.
“I definitely think I made a good decision to leave as well as come back. It always seems like the grass is greener on the other side and sometimes you just have to go and see for yourself.”
She also credits her parents for supporting her every step of the way.
“They supported my decision to try something completely new. They gave me the chance to do something I always wanted.”
One of Melissa’s most notable attributes is her strength–both physically and mentally. During her senior season, Gallaher and her teammates have started a tradition known as “12 strong.”
“We’ve started the tradition to put tape around our left wrists–since our left hand is closest to our hearts–and write “12 Strong” on the top and “together” on the bottom.” Ultimately, this gives the squad an extra edge in chasing down a ground ball or digging in for the final minutes of a tie game.
The “12 Strong” campaign is personified in Melissa Gallaher. This mentality will ultimately cement her legacy at Greensboro College.
Many things will be missed from Mel around our small campus–her sheer quality on the athletic field coupled with that charming smile.
“She is definitely an all-time great for the GC women’s lacrosse team.”
Would the Greensboro faithful echo Bickerstaff’s assessment?
‘Mel Yeah’ they would. ‘Mel Yeah’.