PHOTO COURTESY OF XAVIER ATHLETICS

The Foundation of Meg Decker: Passion, Positivity and the Drive to Groom Leaders


Meg Decker didn’t always have a plan. On the field, she was the type of lacrosse player who simply let her body take control.

There were no premeditated plays or backup plans. Her dodges weren’t necessarily thought through. Her Loyola teammates called her “Noodle” because she played like she didn’t have a single bone in her body — her unorthodox style something that was both unpredictable and captivating.

Decker’s more of a planner now. Hired last month as the head coach of the new Xavier women’s lacrosse team, Decker knows what she wants for the future of her program, and she knows the steps she’s willing to take to get there. That unorthodox, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style is still something she encourages among her players, but building a program from scratch requires a bit more structure behind the scenes.

It’s not as if starting a program is a foreign concept to the Baltimore native. Prior to transferring to Loyola, Decker played under the tutelage of Cindy Timchal in Navy’s first season as a varsity program. Her first coaching stop was as an assistant on Virginia Commonwealth’s inaugural team. She was then tabbed by Hartford to be the Hawks’ first-ever head coach. She even started her school’s book club and the club team she played on in high school.

Brimming with potential as one of the up-and-coming coaches in the sport, Decker will have the resources available to her at Xavier — a Big East school — that could help her take the next step in her career on the sideline.

“Meg Decker is a powder keg of what could happen in women’s lacrosse,” said Jen Adams, Decker’s coach at Loyola. “You put a coach with passion and add to that Xavier’s commitment to women’s lacrosse, and a lot of exciting things could happen.”


“Meg Decker is a powder keg of what could happen in women’s lacrosse.”

— Jen Adams


“Passion” and “positivity” are the two buzzwords most used by Decker’s peers, friends and mentors when describing her personality. She said she finds the collateral beauty in every situation.

During her six years at Hartford, Decker spearheaded immense growth in her student-athletes, both as players and leaders. The record didn’t necessarily reflect the development. In three full seasons of play (plus a 2020 season cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic), Hartford went 2-44 as a new program in the America East.

In May, Hartford announced it would transition from Division I to Division III across all sports.

“There’s good, bad and ugly that came out of Hartford, for sure,” Decker said. “I’m so grateful for the players and parents who supported me.

“I learned so much. I booked some really, really tough games those first couple years thinking that playing tough games would make conference play feel easy. I just ended up knocking their confidence so far down that by the time they had the talent to win in conference, they didn’t have the confidence.”

None of that was ever discouraging, though. Spend five minutes talking with Decker, and her glowing positivity can be felt through the phone. If anyone could turn lemons into lemonade, it’s her.

“She’s gone through her fair share of difficulties, as any coach has, and there are challenges associated with any program,” said Abigail Rehfuss, her former Loyola teammate and current head coach at Siena. “Her experiences, both good and bad, have seasoned her to hit the ground running.”








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Decker credits Adams and Loyola assistant Dana Dobbie for her ability to teach the X’s and O’s of lacrosse. She transferred out of Navy after the 2008 season because she learned that the Naval Academy experience just wasn’t for her. Once she got to Loyola, Adams and Dobbie took extra time to explain the ins and outs of the game.

But her one season on the field under Timchal set the stage for the rest of her playing career. Like a liquid taking the shape of its container, so did Decker. On any team she played with, Decker did whatever her team needed to be complete.

“At the Naval Academy, we needed a lefty driver,” she said. “I was average. I wasn’t that great with my right either. They taught me how to use my left. Every single lefthanded play was my play. That’s what we needed on the team. I was the missing piece.”

After sitting out the 2009 season because of transfer rules, Decker burst onto the scene at Loyola. She started nearly every game. Rehfuss called her “a monster on the draw” and one of the fastest players she’s ever seen.

Her toolbox of skills made her a weapon.

“Sometimes, I think she’d surprise herself with what she’d do on the field,” Rehfuss said. “I don’t think she’s the type of player who goes into a dodge with a plan. Her body just kind of carries her, and she finds ways to make things work.”

Decker likes to say that the work isn’t always shiny. In some games, her role was simply to run the ball up the field. As a senior, Decker was brought off the bench five minutes into games because she had the ability to watch, assess and then assume the role her team was missing against a particular opponent.

That’s the type of awareness she hopes to relay to her athletes. Lacrosse is a reactionary game in which players have to adjust every single second, and a strong lacrosse IQ can help make up for any potential shortcomings in skill.

“I’m not Type A, in any stretch of the imagination,” Decker said. “I like to teach players how to think. You need to be able to make decisions and make them quick.”

It takes some time for her players to understand. They read about Decker’s career accolades — two-time All-Big East honors, 113 goals and 154 draw controls — and assume Decker was a star player. Her athletes hear those achievements and think Decker was the type of player who could simply impose her will on the field.

That wasn’t always the case.

“Usually I get an eye roll in the first conversation, but the more they learn, they get it,” Decker said. “I did whatever was needed to win. Sometimes, it takes them awhile to believe me.”




PHOTO COURTESY OF XAVIER ATHLETICS


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Decker’s “About” section on LinkedIn contains just one item — a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

It’s befitting the vision she sees for her future athletes at Xavier. Decker wants to cultivate leaders. She wants to win, too, but she knows the student-athlete experience is about much more than just conference championships.

There are two traits Decker is looking for to build her culture. Leadership, for one, is non-negotiable. Secondly, she wants feisty players — not unlike herself — who can also unwind with a good sense of humor.

“What I think the modern game needs is someone like Meg who really promotes creativity among her players,” Rehfuss said. “Just having fun with the game and not being super rigid is important.”

That’s one of many reasons prospective athletes will be drawn to Xavier under Decker’s watch.

“We’d be recruiting the same kids, and I’d lose a few recruits to Meg. And I’d be like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Rehfuss said. “My program in the past few years has done a full rebuild and done really well. We’re established and on an upward trajectory, and I’m losing these kids to one of my best friends. But people are naturally drawn to her.”

Decker’s coach at Navy knows what it takes to build a program and believes Decker possesses similar traits. Timchal started the Northwestern program, turned Maryland into one of the NCAA’s elite programs and then started the program at Navy. The National Lacrosse Hall of Famer is the winningest coach (527-142) in the history of NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse and won eight national championships at Maryland.

“Starting something new is always a thrill and an exciting experience,” Timchal said. “That does not go without the hard work behind all the excitement. In many ways, you’re starting from scratch and promoting a program.

“New programs provide new opportunities for younger coaches. Someone like Meg being hired at Xavier, she has a wealth of experience to help start this new program.”

Having learned something during every stop in her lacrosse career, Decker thinks she’s well equipped to help Xavier climb the national ladder. At VCU, she learned how to use the culture of a basketball school to help with recruiting — an obvious edge that Xavier has over other universities. She also learned about the finances available to athletic programs and how to better allocate and assist in the management of funds. Hartford taught her the importance of engaging with the families of student-athletes while also providing a blueprint for starting a program as a head coach.

Xavier will be different. Expectations will be magnified in the Big East. But Decker, who is one of the most confident people Rehfuss has ever met, is taking the challenge head on.

“There is more to lacrosse than lacrosse, but I love the game and I want to win,” Decker said. “We’re going to do well at Xavier. But we’re coaching young women who are in a huge transitional learning phase of their lives. Our job as coaches is to make them stronger and able to influence the world in a positive way by the time they graduate.”

Such is the positivity of Meg Decker. The work’s not always shiny, and it might sometimes be unorthodox. Don’t mistake that for a lack of direction, though. Decker is driven.

“People have trusted her with the reins because she really has a strong sense of what she’s all about and what she wants to do in the future,” Adams said. “Leaving any place or any person better than she found it. That’s the foundation of Meg Decker.”