Favorite athlete: Joel Embiid
Favorite team: Philadelphia Eagles
Favorite memory competing in sports: Upsetting Boyertown in the first round of districts my sophomore year.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: When the other team didn’t come back from halftime (middle school basketball)
Music on mobile device: Rap/Pop music
Future plans: To attend college
Words to live by: “Live every week like it’s shark week.”
One goal before turning 30: To travel the world
One thing people don’t know about me: Conversational in sign language.
By Mary Jane Souder
Kaelin Mealey makes no mention of coaching when she talks about her future plans, although she thoroughly enjoyed her two-year stint assisting with an AAU basketball team of fifth and sixth grade girls.
But if, by chance, the Council Rock North senior has even the slightest interest in going back to the sidelines when her playing days are over, she won’t have to look hard to find a home.
“I hope four years from now she’s sitting next to me as an assistant,” coach Lou Palkovics said.
After a brief pause, the Rock North coach amended his statement.
“Either four years from now I’d love to see her sitting as an assistant next to me or working for NASA,” Palkovics said.
Mealey doesn’t mention NASA as a career choice, but academics are definitely a top priority. In fact, her penchant for burying her head in her books during bus rides to and from games has earned her the nickname ‘Mom.’
“She keeps everyone in line,” Palkovics said. “She’s so diligent, studying on the bus, studying in the stands. She’s always staying on top of her grades.
“At practice, she’s making sure when we split up and do individual work that everybody is doing their jobs. If I’ll look over and see someone goofing off, I’ll say, ‘Mom, do your job. Do your job, mom.’ She’s a great kid.”
Mealey is one of those players coaches love having on their team, and she doesn’t have the slightest issue with the fact that she splits starts with Olivia Boyle, starting every other game.
“We try not to focus too much on that,” Mealey said. “It’s really not who starts on the court or who gets their name announced in the beginning of the game.
“Once you have the opportunity on the court, we each take advantage of all the time we’re given. No matter if we start or not, I don’t think that impacts me or Liv and the way we play. It’s just the contribution that you try and make for your team. I think it’s a great thing coach is doing, giving both of us the opportunity to enjoy the pre-game hype and hearing your name announced.”
Palkovics admits this is the first time in his coaching career he’s ever rotated his starters.
“I don’t even look at the matchups – if it’s Kaelin’s turn, she starts,” the Indians’ coach said. “I actually sometimes walk into pre-games when I go to do matchups, and I’ll look at my assistant coaches and say, ‘Who’s turn is it?’ She’s earned time for being such a good soldier. She plays within herself.”
Mealey isn’t a headliner, but she has made important contributions both on and off the court to an Indian squad that captured a share of the SOL National crown and earned a state berth. In an important game against Abington in mid-January, Mealey saved the day by sinking both ends of two one-and-ones down the stretch, turning a four-point lead into an eight-point lead with 27 seconds remaining.
It’s hardly surprising that Mealey – a self-admitted perfectionist - was clutch at the foul line.
“My foul shooting is probably one of the strengths of my game,” she said. “I think the perfectionist attitude really helps in striving for that every season and having a high average in things you can control, making sure you have the mindset and mental strength to really control that.”
Mealey, according to Palkovics, is beloved by her teammates, and it’s natural for her to fall into her ‘mom’ role when it comes to ensuring that things are running smoothly.
“I kind of have always had that nature,” she said. “I might not always be the most athletic, but I definitely make sure that I contribute what I can.
“That kind of shows itself off the court as well. Just the team dynamic – I make sure it’s a positive environment. Sometimes that includes talking to teammates, making sure we’re maintaining a really good environment off the court, which I think is a really positive aspect of our team. We are really just inclusive in everything, and I really like to maintain that.”
It’s pretty much the same story on the volleyball team where coach Mike Adams regularly touched base with Mealey to find out the mental state of the team.
“(Are they) stressed about life or about school or not getting enough sleep with all their academic homework so I could cancel practices if needed to give players a mental catch-up day,” the Indians’ coach said. “It was such an advantage to keep the kids focused and fresh with a long season into the playoffs, and I could always go to her and ask her, and she would know about every kid. She’s an amazing person, and I’m really going to miss her.”
Basketball is the sport of choice in the Mealey household. Shooting hoops with younger brother Sean the moment they arrived home from school was a regular occurrence when they were youngsters.
“My dad played in high school,” she said. “I don’t think he was ever too serious, but I just think it plays to our competitive nature. We do have the competitive gene, and basketball suits that really well.
“(Also), you can play it anywhere with however many people you’ve got. All you really need is a ball and a basket. If you’re able to really follow what a coach tells you and put the effort in – they can see that, and it really helps.”
Mealey got her first taste of competitive basketball playing for an Upper Makefield in-house team under the tutelage of her father (Kevin Mealey), who helped coach the squad. It wasn’t long before she joined the AAU circuit, initially playing for Upper Makefield and the past two years, Fencor.
“I love basketball a lot,” Mealey said. “I think it’s all aspects. It has the awesome competitive part that’s really satisfying.
“Other sports don’t quite have that physical, competitive aspect that can be seen on an intellectual level for me. I’m kind of a nerd, and I overanalyze everything, but it sometimes helps with basketball.”
A swing player as a freshman, Mealey is a three-year varsity player, and she has nothing but fond memories of her sophomore year when her sister Taylor – then a senior – served as one of the team’s managers.
“That was the best experience ever,” Mealey said. “I wanted to get to play on the team with her, but she decided to really pursue the academic side of school.
“We would play trivia games on the bus with the rest of the team and do geography games and quiz people on the presidents. That gave us the reputation of being the joint moms on the team.”
Her commitment to her squad was underscored recently when she opted to forego the second day of a weekend event at Villanova University to join her team working with autistic kids at Parkwood on a Saturday morning.
“She sent me the schedule of the day, so there was no way she was going to make it,” Palkovics recalled. “Then after going through all the workshops on Friday, she was like, ‘Listen, I think I have a handle on it. I don’t want to miss working with the kids tomorrow. I’ll be there.’”
“I think everything is just about perspective,” Mealey said. “It’s not like I’m looking to play basketball in college or play professionally. It’s a recreational sport, but I think the impact we can have on other people through our sport is amazing.
“Sometimes that does involve giving up things. I chose not to spend the day at Villanova, but we got to meet some great kids, and it was so fun for our team. I just think looking to make an impact with basketball is really the bigger picture to the sport, and part of what makes it so fun is it’s inclusive. Anyone can play, no matter what level.”
Mealey – who played both soccer and softball as a youngster - followed in the footsteps of her sister and began playing volleyball in seventh grade. She was a member of the volleyball team all four years of high school, the last two at the varsity level.
“It was so amazing,” she said. “Our junior year team – we had the best group of seniors I’ve ever played with. My class – it’s been all of the same seven girls since middle school. It was really an amazing experience.”
Mealey lined up at the net as an opposite hitter.
“Kaelin was a senior leader on the team with both high positive energy and super consistent, smart playing on the court,” Adams said. “She was the perfect role model for our younger players as the ideal student-athlete, being successful in the classroom, on the court and in so many other facets of life. Kaelin is the kind of person that raises the level of your entire program just by being part of it.”
Mealey has not decided on a college but has been accepted into Villanova University’s honors college. She plans to study pre-law.
Off the court, Mealey is the president of the Latin Honor Society and co-chair for the Rho Kappa National Social Studies Honor Society. She is also involved in the National Honor Society and has not taken the easy road in her final year of high school. Her course load includes four AP classes and the highest level of Latin her school offers.
“Definitely, the course work is pretty heavy, and at times, it’s hard to manage with basketball, but that’s really why we’re at school,” Mealey said. “Basketball is an amazing supplement to the kind of emotional and mental stress that all of that school work can bring.
“It’s an amazing outlet, especially having your teammates always checking up on me. It’s great to have that as a support system.”