Michaela McMahon's Comeback Arc Culminated in U19 Gold Medal


Michaela McMahon laughs while recalling the afternoons in the yard with her siblings that probably included more bickering than practicing.

Without question, the McMahon family is a lacrosse family. Both parents, Karen and Paul McMahon, played lacrosse at William and Mary. Cousin Matt McMahon is a defender in the Premier Lacrosse League for Archers LC. All five McMahon siblings play lacrosse, too.

There’s Michaela, a Penn midfielder and 2019 gold medalist with the U.S. U19 women’s team. Gabrielle, the eldest sibling, played at USC from 2013-17. Isabel, who goes by Izzy, is entering her fifth year at USC. Daniella is also entering a fifth year, but at Stanford. Sophia, the youngest, will head to Stanford in the fall as a freshman.

Other than Michaela, all the McMahon siblings play their college ball on the West Coast. That just wasn’t for her.

“They were meant to be on the West Coast, and I wasn’t,” she said. “I didn’t want to be that far from home. I loved Penn when I visited. I felt that was the place for me.”

Before she got to Penn, she honed her skills in the backyard playing more than just lacrosse. The spectrum of athletics the McMahons participated in included basketball, soccer, field hockey, baseball and, of course, lacrosse.

“When we got older, lacrosse became the sport that we were really going to pursue,” Michaela McMahon said.

Izzy, who was always most enthused about playing every position and every sport and actually started her collegiate athletics career playing basketball at Army, was the one who willingly strapped on the goalie equipment. Karen McMahon started the youth program in their hometown of Bardonia, N.Y., so they had equipment handy.

“We were looking at home videos pretty recently, and there was a video of her in full goalie gear playing in the front yard,” Michaela said before acknowledging that even if Izzy didn’t flourish between the pipes, she gave it full effort.

“Support” is a word that comes up frequently when talking about the McMahon family. Although Michaela said she did most of her training with Daniella and Sophia because their careers overlapped at Saddle River Day School, she said her entire family is a “huge reason why I’ve been successful in the sport.”

Their support was crucial once she went through one of the training weekends for the U.S. U19 team. She was cut by the coaching staff, led by head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. McMahon was candid when describing her play during that particular training camp.

“It wasn’t any anger [about the decision],” she said. “I didn’t think I played well in the training camp, so I understood why. But I definitely had a lot of motivation to prove to her that I belonged there and that I could have made it.”

She embarked on her freshman season at Penn and used collegiate lacrosse as something of a distraction after being passed over for Team USA. Then, Penn traveled to Evanston, Ill., to play Northwestern on March 31, 2019.

With Amonte Hiller, the Wildcats head coach, on the opposite sideline, McMahon scored two goals, secured five draws and corralled a ground ball. There was extra motivation, for sure.

“We played Northwestern, and after we played them,” McMahon said, “Kelly called my coach [Karin Corbett] and said that she wanted to invite me back.”

McMahon technically hadn’t even missed a USA event. Still, her comeback story was being written. Her family gave her the strength to move forward before even getting that second chance.

“Me making the team is like them making the team,” she said. “I couldn’t do it without them.”

When Penn’s season ended, McMahon made sure to “prove that she belonged” with the uber-talented group of U19 hopefuls. As any good comeback arc goes, she made the team.

Then, a whirlwind of a summer happened. The U19 team steamrolled through international competition and eventually finished a 13-3 win over Canada to win the gold medal in the U19 World Championships on Aug. 10, 2019.

“I can’t really give you the details of that game because honestly, I don’t remember,” McMahon said. “That feeling when the horn went off and we were all celebrating, it was just so fulfilling. We trained so hard. I think our first tryout was almost exactly a year before that game. We put so much work into being the team we were that week.”

The front yard shenanigans that helped shape each of the McMahon sisters’ athletic prowess helped Michaela prepare for that U19 run. Now, during quarantine, there’s plenty of time for them to reconnect — with (hopefully) much less playful fighting.

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