For Michaela McMahon, playing college lacrosse might have seemed like fate.
After all, almost every member of her family has played lacrosse at the college level. Michaela is continuing a legacy.
The McMahon family has devoted itself to the sport, a fact that has greatly contributed to Michaela’s success thus far at Penn.
Michaela has been an important asset to Penn women’s lacrosse. This season, the freshman midfielder has already scored 19 goals, proving that she has great potential in years to come. She was the top-scorer in Penn’s game against Columbia, with a career high of four goals.
“She came in with a lot of confidence and just kind of hit the road running,” coach Karin Corbett said.
Michaela isn’t the first member of the McMahon family that Corbett has recruited.
The three older McMahon sisters are also exceptionally good at lacrosse. Gabrielle, the oldest, played lacrosse at USC, where Isabel McMahon also currently plays. Isabel was formerly a member of both the lacrosse and basketball teams at Army before transferring to USC for her sophomore year. Daniella McMahon plays lacrosse at Stanford. Sophia, the youngest McMahon sister, is a junior in high school who has committed to Stanford to play lacrosse as well.
Corbett had hoped to have all the McMahon sisters on her team, but Michaela was ultimately the only one who chose to come to Penn.
“I think that having the older sisters, having people that have been through the process and have played in college are able to give you a little bit more perspective, which is always helpful,” senior defender Katy Junior said.
The McMahon sisters learned to love sports from a young age. Growing up, they all played lacrosse, soccer, and basketball, but it was ultimately lacrosse that won them over.
“For most of us, we knew that lacrosse was going to be our number one priority,” Michaela said. “It came to that point when we got to a certain age and we had to stop playing travel soccer, stop playing travel basketball because it just interfered too much with travel lacrosse.”
Both Paul and Karen McMahon, their parents, played lacrosse in college. Paul attended Clarkstown South High School in West Nyack, N.Y., while Karen went to Nyack High School in Nyack, N.Y. Though they had gone to school in the same county, Paul and Karen never actually met until they both competed for William and Mary.
Paul and Karen are both very invested in their daughters’ careers as lacrosse players and have done everything they can to support them. When the McMahon sisters were growing up, there wasn’t a youth lacrosse program in Bardonia, N.Y., their hometown, so Karen started one.
“The first thing I did was hold a free clinic. Or, you know, like a $25, three-hour clinic. And I had my alma mater high school players help me. It was an awesome turnout, and it just snowballed from there,” Karen said.
Michaela was often able to play up with the older girls, which helped her develop her skills at a young age. Paul also helped coach some of the younger girls in the youth league.
“It was different, obviously. I still had to learn the game because there are a lot of differences between women’s and men’s lacrosse,” Paul said.
Karen was a huge force in shaping Michaela’s trajectory as a player. From a young age, Michaela was coached informally by her mother, especially as part of the youth league. This opportunity allowed Michaela to start playing competitive lacrosse when she was early in elementary school.
Karen also started the women’s lacrosse program at Michaela’s high school, Saddle Day River School. Karen still coaches at the school, where Paul also serves as an assistant coach.
“I think there were a lot of positives that came out of it because I do really respect my mom as my lacrosse coach. But there were also times when it was tough to treat her like my coach and not my mom. Sometimes we did bump heads,” Michaela said. “I think my mom really helped me grow as a player, and I owe a lot of who I am as a lacrosse player to her because she’s the one who taught me everything I knew.”
It wasn’t always easy, though, to have the whole family involved with one team. Though Michaela values having been coached by her mom, the whole family recognizes that it was stressful at times.
“It’s not a dynamic I would ever recommend for anybody. A husband and wife coaching a high school team together and having their kids on the team, it was [a lot],” Paul said. “We have a lot of good memories, a ton of them, and we laugh about the other stuff. It’s good looking back and laughing. But at the time, it created a lot of stress.”
After having been coached by her mom for four years, Michaela had to make the transition to being coached by someone who wasn’t family.
“Her mom is very tough and is somebody who demands a lot, and I like that. I think I’m a tough coach. I have certain standards. I want them to play up to that standard, and I’m going to tell them when they’re not,” Corbett said. “I knew she grew up with that, and I knew that wouldn’t be different for her.
“That’s why I wanted all the McMahons. I just knew that they would be able to handle that in college, and they were going to compete every day and try to get on the field every day and not be overly sensitive.”
For Michaela and her sisters, lacrosse is a sport they genuinely want to play. There was never any pressure to play or to continue with lacrosse at the collegiate level. It was natural for them.
“It was just a part of all of our lives. It’s not as if Karen and I were like, ‘Oh you’re gonna play lacrosse and you’re gonna play in college.’ It really wasn’t like that,” Paul said. “The girls, thankfully, enjoy the game, they love the game, and they always expressed an interest in wanting to play in college.”
Michaela has taken the challenges of freshman year in stride. She isn’t just valued on the team for her lacrosse skills but for her funny and easy-going personality.
“She’s funny. She can laugh at herself. She doesn’t take herself too seriously,” Corbett said. “She’s a little bit spacey at times, which is endearing.”
“She takes feedback so well, and that’s made it super easy to integrate her into the starting lineup, which has been huge for us this year,” Junior said.
Michaela is keeping the McMahon family dynasty alive. And Penn women’s lacrosse is better for it.