By Jeremy McDonald
TURNER, Ore.– It’s a weird feeling for Cascade’s Hailey McKenzie as she entered her senior season with the Cougars being the only senior on the roster. Going from a senior-heavy squad the year before that saw the Cascade program reach the 4A Play-In Round to being the lone senior on a underclassmen-heavy squad going into this year is definitely a shift for McKenzie going into her final year of prep soccer.
But the seniors before her from last year left her a lasting message with it now McKenzie’s turn to be that senior leader for the squad this Fall.
“Just being able to be so open minded about everything and listen to others and take their views into perspective is a lot more than what you think. The seniors last year really took all of our opinions into consideration when they were talking to (Head Coach) Robert (Leon) about plays and everything we wanted to try. They really just talked to everyone and it makes me want to do the same thing and be that way,” McKenzie said.
Having been around the game for ten, eleven years at this point of her playing career. At one point the game started drifting away from her, not meaning as much to her as it once did until Covid hit in 2020 and had momentarily paused her playing career during her sophomore season.
It was then where McKenzie’s passion for the game rekindled and grew once more as the Cougars played in the short-season in what was Head Coach Leon’s first year with the program and it’s stayed with her since seeing the program go from one win her sophomore year to four this past year under their new coach.
“Me taking the whole time off made me fall back in love with the sport. This sport kind of raised me a little bit, it’s pretty much home,” McKenzie described. “Not having it in my life made me appreciate it more because you don’t realize how much you love something until you don’t have it. We didn’t have it and it made me realize how much I really truly love this sport.”
With their jamboree at Gladstone next Friday night and their season opener August 30 at Junction City at 6:30pm, these next two weeks will be crucial for Cascade to take the next step and be ready to go. They had a Summer scrimmage with Stayton that impressed McKenzie with where they’re at as a team already, but it did also give them something to work on going into the next few practices in preparation for the season ahead with the first official day of practice wrapped up and is in the rear-view mirror.
“A lot of communication and just a lot of opening up to the field and looking at how the field should be moving. We all just move in our own way and the ones who’ve played with Robert in the years past, they already know how Robert wants us to move. So being able to help teach the freshmen of ‘this is how our field needs to be moving. This is how the defense and offense need to be working together and being able to cooperate more than we were in our Stayton game,” McKenzie said.
“Beating Stayton and how we beat Stayton opened the eyes to our eyes as a team on how much growing we need to do, but we don’t have as much as we thought we had to do being so freshman heavy. I thought we had a lot more growing and it made us excited that we can beat our rival then the season is going to be really exciting for us.”
The home opener for the Cougars will be September 10 against Cottage Grove at noon.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald