In seventh grade, Megan Mikolajek decided to switch sports. She had been playing softball, but she wanted to play something where she could be more aggressive.
She found it, all right.
Mikolajek switched to lacrosse, and that aggressiveness she sought became one of her defining characteristics during an outstanding, award-winning career.
From chasing ground balls, to relentlessly honing her stickwork, to helping leave an emphatic mark on a championship program, Mikolajek’s work ethic led to excellence at Hamburg High and will take her to Division I competition at the University at Albany. Her ability to impact the game from any spot on the field, and the work ethic that fueled it, led to her being chosen as the recipient of the third Tom Borrelli Memorial Award as the top senior female lacrosse player in Western New York.
“I had seen my neighbors playing lacrosse and seen people playing the sport,” Mikolajek said. “Instead of softball, where it’s throw-hit-catch, I wanted to run down the field, I wanted to score, I wanted to play a team sport where I could be aggressive and physical – even though we couldn’t check too much then.”
Nowadays, Mikolajek’s friends say that she’s either home, working … or playing lacrosse.
“I love the sport so much,” she said. “Friends tease me about it … I’ll be rushing home to watch a lacrosse game. I love it. It’s such a big part of my life.”
Mikolajek’s high school career took a big leap in her sophomore year, which was the first year under coach Katy Ryan, a Hamburg alum who played at the University of Connecticut.
“I have to give all of the credit to Coach Ryan – she is what sparked my interest,” said Mikolajek, a midfielder. “She was the one that let me know that I can play at a high level if I put my mind and body to the challenge. From the beginning, Coach Ryan let us know we were changing the program, that we were bringing it back to a winning program. She helped me get involved in travel teams and help push me even harder.”
Ryan may have helped feed that appetite, but the coach points to the player’s attitude as the reason for her successes.
“Her drive and determination are unmatched,” Ryan said of Mikolajek, noting that the senior class voted her “Most Likely to win the Hunger Games,” a reference to the popular book and movie that takes competition to the extreme. “She is so competitive. She portrays the meaning of excellence, versatility, hard work, dedication and toughness every time she steps on the field.”
The stat line for the player in the purple No. 25 explains Mikolajek’s impact in nearly every facet of the game. This season, she had 43 goals (105 for career), 59 assists (93 career) seven interceptions (18 career), 61 caused turnovers (122 career), 24 ground balls (130 career) and 64 draw controls (171 career).
Mikolajek was a huge part of the Bulldogs’ turnaround under Ryan, as they lost in the Section VI Class B final during her sophomore year before winning the last two championships. Mikolajek took on more of a leadership role with each season, and in the big games she left an impression: She had five goals in last year’s sectional final and four this year.
The hard work not only showed up on the field in statistics, but it also helped her refine her stick skills. That meant countless days in the backyard, playing some wall-ball against a rebounder before shooting into a goal – if the shots missed, they would head to the woods, sometimes never to be found.
“I think I’ve lost 10 or 20 balls in the backyard – that’s been a big expense over the years,” said Mikolajek, who thanked her parents for that and much more. “They have helped me so much, pushing me all the time – not in a forceful way. They’ve driven me to pretty much every city in the Northeast, going on seven- or eight-hour car rides.”
The Mikolajek’s car rides will focus on Albany now, where Megan just returned from a three-day introductory camp.
“The high school and college games are the same, but the pace is going to get a lot faster,” said Mikolajek, and by the sound of it, her game isn’t changing either. “They are a growing program, starting to dominate in their conference. I’m just going in on Day One and am going to work at it like I have in high school, just keep working hard. … Hopefully while I’m there we’ll win a few America East titles and play in the NCAAs.”
This is the third year of the girls’ Borrelli Award. Mikolajek follows Julia Suriani (West Seneca East) in 2011 and Spring Sanders (Nichols) last year. Award winners are selected by The News’ high school sports department after consultation with local scouts and coaches.
Mikolajek was chosen from a talented Class of 2013 that included teammate and fellow All-American attackman Taylor Wolf and Niagara-Wheatfield midfielder Laura Messer (both of whom will play at Niagara) as well as Frontier goalie and Delaware State signee Emily Pasternak.
“To be known as the top player in Western New York, especially with all of the players around here, it feels great to receive it,” Mikolajek said. “Especially in his name, it’s such an honor.”
Borrelli, a News sports reporter and editor, died Nov. 20, 2008. He died of injuries suffered less than two weeks earlier when he fell down the press box stairway at All High Stadium while covering a high school football game. As a tribute to Borrelli and the sport he loved, a committee led by News Sports Columnist Bob DiCesare established the Tom Borrelli Memorial Award and Scholarship Fund.
Last year, the Borrelli committee added the “Ox” Awards, which go to seniors who display the talent, versatility, hard work, dedication and toughness displayed by Borrelli – whose nickname was “Ox” – in his work as a reporter and editor at The Buffalo News. Last year’s inaugural winner was Hamburg’s Amanda Obenshain, who played in eight games this past season at Albany.
The unique award is being awarded in a unique way this year as Frontier twins Grace and Hannah Christiansen are receiving the “Ox” Award. Both players were second-team All-Western New York selections: Hannah was Frontier’s leading scorer (40 goals) while Grace led the team in ground balls, draw controls and caused turnovers. Hannah will play at the State University of New York at Canton while Hannah will attend Daemen, which does not have a lacrosse program.
“They are the hardest-working kids in Section VI,” said Frontier coach Tim Myslinski, who is also the Falcons’ football coach. “They play with an intensity that I wish my football players would play with. Dedication and toughness are words that don’t even come close to who these girls are as individuals and leaders.”
The boys award winners will be announced in Saturday’s News.
The awards and scholarships will be presented during the banquet portion of Monday’s fifth Tom Borrelli Memorial Golf Tournament presented by the Buffalo Bandits at Holland Hills Country Club. The event is also sponsored by The Buffalo News and ADPRO Sports.
To make a donation to the Borrelli fund, send a check payable to the Tom Borrelli Memorial Award and Scholarship Fund, c/o Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, 712 Main St., Buffalo, 14202-1720.