By Dave Ongie, Managing Editor
When you see Megan Burleson in action, she appears to be a goal-scoring machine.
Always in motion, the Science Hill senior attacks every scoring opportunity with tenacity and aggression and finishes most of those chances with her heavy right foot. But underneath that competitive exterior, Burleson was feeling plenty nervous during a home match against Dobyns-Bennett on Sept. 13.
Her family and friends were in the stands, and everyone was waiting expectantly for her to score a pair of goals. The first would tie Rachel Jones’ school record for goals in a season, and the second would make her the all-time leading goal-scorer in Science Hill history.
“That was a lot of pressure. I was very nervous the whole game,” Burleson said.
The first goal alleviated some of the pressure, but relief finally washed over Burleson when she netted the record-setting goal in the 71st minute of a 4-0 result over the rival Lady Indians.
Technically, the record is a personal one, but Burleson sees it as a team accomplishment. Her teammates helped orchestrate the moment, which unfurled like something written in a Hollywood script – a career milestone goal coming against her school’s greatest rival. In the end, Sept. 13 was the culmination of years of friendship, hard work and sacrifice that go back about 15 years.
Burleson started playing soccer at the age of 3, and it didn’t take her parents – Brandon and Crystal – long to realize she had some talent. She quickly moved on to play for Tri-Cities United, where she met the other eight girls who comprise this year’s senior class at Science Hill.
Burleson’s game really began to blossom on the travel circuit, and her parents took her all across the southeast on the weekends so she could refine her game. But the real work started when she got to high school and quickly established herself as a player to be reckoned with.
“There is a lot of work put into it, especially from my freshman year to now,” Burleson said. “There was a lot of training.”
Burleson will tell you she comes from a competitive family, and that fire is hard to miss when she’s on the field. But it is the friendships she has made along the way that she is treasuring the most as her senior season winds toward its conclusion.
Last Saturday, Burleson and fellow seniors Jade Baker, Cari Egerbrecht, Nora Pugh, Olivia Habart, Ellie Luna, Elliott Rigs, Marli Cevallos and Kinley Thompson celebrated their Senior Night together inside Kermit Tipton Stadium, a sign that their journey together is drawing toward its conclusion.
“I started playing with all those girls when we were really little,” Burleson said. “That’s great friendship.”
Together, the Lady Hilltoppers won the Mountain Empire Tournament they were hosting with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Girls Preparatory School. Junior Morgan Mahoney scored both goals in the final game, showing Science Hill’s programs will be in good hands moving forward.
Following Science Hill’s pending postseason run, Burleson is aware her time in high school will be moving forward quickly. She plans to graduate in December, and she’s doing her best to savor every moment before she starts college in January.
“It’s kind of nerve-wracking, but I know it will be good for me in the long run,” she said.
As it turns out, Burleson will be staying close to home. After weighing scholarships offers from schools near and far, she made the decision to sign with ETSU to continue her soccer career and get her education.
Burleson’s competitive side will certainly be fed as she plays at the Division I level, but the side of her that treasures her friends and family is also thrilled with the decision.
“I did talk to a handful of colleges, but ultimately staying home was something I was really looking forward to,” Burleson said. “I told my grandparents I was staying here, and they were all so happy they still get to see me play.
“I love the girls (at ETSU). They feel like family already, and I haven’t even been there.”