As the little white ball glides across the pristine turf at Underhill Field, the anticipation in the air is palpable. Spectators begin to stand, and their eyes are focused down the field on one person: Megan Rodgers. The ball hits Rodgers’ stick, and as she turns to face the goal, just one opposing player separates her from the goalie.
It’s just a few seconds, but time seems to slow down as Rodgers makes her move. She deftly guides the ball forward, and as she enters the shooting circle, the field grows quiet. With the defender on her hip, Rodgers stops, turns around and unleashes a reverse shot that goes between the goalie’s legs and into the back of the net.
“You see her get loose one-on-one, and everybody stands up and holds their breath and just sees what happens,” head coach Shellie Onstead said. “It’s fun (to watch).”
The goal is Rodgers’ third of the day in Cal’s season opener against Providence, marking her second collegiate hat trick in a career that seems destined for many more. Sights like this have become common for Rodgers, the star sophomore forward who has already put her name in the Cal field hockey record books.
Rodgers’ journey to this point, though, begins nearly 500 miles south of Berkeley in San Diego, where she was raised in a sports-loving home.
For Rodgers, field hockey is a family matter. As the youngest of three girls, Rodgers picked up the game in elementary school after learning from her older sisters, Kristin, who played field hockey at UC Davis, and Racquel, who played soccer at San Diego State.
“(Kristin) was super into field hockey,” Rodgers says. “She was a very good player. … She’d take me out in the backyard and play with me and really influenced me.”
“(Megan) would come to all the games when her sisters were playing,” Rodgers’ high school coach, Laurie Berger, said. “I first met her when she was probably 7. She’d come to the games — she had her own stick, and she’d play around.”
It wasn’t long until Rodgers was dominating on the same field she used to visit as a spectator and postgame star. And while she’s risen up from backyards and high school fields to Cal and the USA junior national team, her roots still belong at home.
“(Field hockey) means a lot to me because my sisters played it,” Rodgers says. “I’m so proud of them and what they’ve accomplished, and to be able to follow in those footsteps is a huge accomplishment for me.”
Once Kristin graduated from high school, it was Megan’s turn to take center stage. After the traditional freshman season on the junior varsity team, she began to wreak havoc on opposing defenses throughout the San Diego area.
Rodgers led the nation in 2015, her junior season, with 60 goals en route to a state championship. The next year, she one-upped herself, scoring three goals per game while compiling an eye-popping 81 on the season, the second-most in the nation’s history in a single season.
“She was a scoring machine,” Berger said. “She broke all the scoring records down here. Honestly, I didn’t think they’d ever really be broken, and they were broken. She broke them — all of them, in three years of play.”
Rodgers’ scoring prowess, too, is rooted in family. Before the Rodgers clan became a field hockey family, they were a soccer household, and Rodgers’ passion for scoring was born from her time as a soccer star.
“When she was 4 years old, she scored 14 goals in her soccer game,” Rodgers’ mother, Tracy, said. “She had to score, she had to score, and she still has that mentality today. If she doesn’t score, she feels like she’s not doing her job. So I think that, at a very early age, she just wanted to win, and she wanted to score.”
Even with her consistency in generating goals — she scored in all but one game as a senior — her on-field wizardry never failed to amaze her coaches.
“We’d be on the sidelines, and she would take the ball, and all of a sudden the ball was in the net,” Berger recalled. “I’d turn to whoever was the JV coach at the time, and I’d go, ‘How did she do that?’ We were just in awe sometimes of the way that she was able to score. I never had a player who could score like that.”
But before all of the accolades and championships in high school, Rodgers was just another promising player seeking to put herself on the map. In middle school, Rodgers attended a camp at Cal, and Onstead saw a bright future in the young forward.
“She was one of those players — you sort of knew from the beginning she had a knack for it,” Onstead said. “She’s just always had that natural swag and the play to back it up.”
And as Onstead got a closer look at Rodgers early in high school, she saw that innate ability blossom into unique talent.
“I’ve always said that it’s in her hands and her quickness,” Onstead said. “True center forwards that are scorers are actually really rare. You can certainly sometimes develop people into that, but ones that just have that going for them without a lot of coaching are really rare.”
Beyond just the talent, though, Onstead was captivated by Rodgers’ drive and demeanor.
After being selected for USA Field Hockey’s youth Futures Program, Rodgers was drawn to the high level of competition and continued to pursue opportunities on the U17 and U19 national teams.
“I knew there would be a lot of interest in her, and I was pretty sure of that because of her attitude,” Onstead said. “She was motivated to get into the national level — so the junior age national teams — and that’s the kind of people you want to recruit. It’s the ones that are motivated to do well collegiately (and also) do well beyond.”
And now, two years into the Megan Rodgers era, the star forward has lived up to the hype. In her freshman year, she posted 17 goals in 17 games, good for third among all freshman in the nation.
“Something sparked in me when I came here,” Rodgers says. “I liked the level of field hockey because I’d always played in a higher level in San Diego, so it kind of matched.”
This season, she experienced a bit of a “sophomore slump” — if you can even call it that. Rodgers put the ball in the back of the net 13 times and added four assists.
“The thing about her is some players would feel some pressure from that kind of a performance in their freshman year, and she just thrives off of it,” Onstead said. “She’s the one you can say to on the bench, ‘You’ve got two? Where’s the hat trick?’ and she responds. She’s not going to wilt from that. She loves it. It’s fun to coach.”
And in a tumultuous 5-12 season for the Bears this year, Rodgers was the lifeline. She produced more than 40 percent of Cal’s shots and scores this season and delivered two game-winning goals.
“It’s good having someone on the team that finishes the ball,” teammate Maddie Cleat said. “You know when Megan gets the ball, she’s going to get an outcome in the circle. … Then I’m usually just ready for rebounds, or — it usually goes in, so I’m ready to celebrate with her.”
Cleat and Rodgers came in together as freshmen and grew close during their first year on the team. The two now share a room that they endearingly call “super-king,” as their beds are so close together that they form a massive mattress.
And when Rodgers isn’t dominating on the field, Cleat says she’s just another girl who enjoys watching Netflix and loves country music.
“She’s just a really fun, bubbly person, and everyone always laughs at what comes out of her mouth, to be honest,” Cleat said. “(We) always have a good time together.”
Now, halfway through her college career, Rodgers is already among the Cal field hockey greats. She is in Cal’s top 10 in both single-season and career goals and needs just 16 more goals to become the second-leading scorer in program history.
While Rodgers has already made her mark, the best may be yet to come. She injured her foot last spring, which kept her out of typical summer training sessions, and she had to work hard to get back in shape for the season.
This time around, Rodgers is set for postseason training with her coaches in preparation for national team selection camps in December and January. With this additional training and next summer’s practices, Rodgers is set to enter her junior season in full force.
“As she gets a full cycle — like a full year in our program without an injury — it’s going to even take her up another notch,” Onstead said. “She wants to get better; she wants her teammates to get better. She’s not going to rest on her laurels.”