Two or three girls marking Mackenzie Love quickly became the norm for the Lake-Lehman junior forward during the postseason.
The unwelcomed pressure meant that Love worked two or three times harder to lead the Black Knights (21-2) to both their first girls soccer district championship in 19 seasons, and farther in states than any other area team since the fall merger five years ago.
For her efforts, Love was selected Times Leader’s Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
“It was shocking,” said Love about leading the Black Knights to their first fall soccer conference and district titles. “No one really expected us to get where we were. We just worked really hard and we wanted to be in the state tournament.”
She led Wyoming Valley Conference scorers in convincing fashion; totaling 48 goals (11 more than the next player) and 110 points (28 more than any other player). She also named to the all-state team.
“She started out great and finished with a bang,” Lake-Lehman coach Kelly Adamshick said. “She started the season with six goals in the first game and never looked back from there. Seeing her excel at that was great.”
It was no easy road to the state semifinals.
Lake-Lehman needed to beat rival Holy Redeemer in two tumultuous contests within eight days – first for the WVC title, second for district final berth. Lake-Lehman used a late goal to down Dunmore 2-1 for the district championship. From there, the Black Knights outlasted Loyalsock (4-3) and Saint Basil’s Academy (2-1) in the state tournament to reach the final four.
Unfortunately, Trinity (Camp Hill) was well on its way to a third straight state championship with a 4-3 victory. With seven minutes remaining in regulation, the Shamrocks scored twice within a minute to crush Love and her teammates’ hopes.
“It was very disappointing,” Love said. “We wanted to be in the final. Regardless, it was a big accomplishment. If we put the work we did this year, we will be there again.”
It seemed opposing defenses figured out Love in the playoffs. The Royals kept her scoreless both times in the postseason. Dunmore had Love in check until she scored the decisive goal — the most climactic of her career — with 19 minutes left on her 17th birthday, coincidentally.
Love, who plays for SC Europa out of Philadelphia, relished against the most physical competition at states. She scored five goals in three games, nearly leading the team to a late comeback against Trinity.
“It was hard,” Love said. “Anywhere I went there were two or three girls on me. No game is the same. You just have to find new ways to score.”
For Adamshick, things turned around for Love once she started recognizing defenses.
“She finally started getting to use to finding open spaces,” Adamshick said. “(Against Redeemer), she was getting a little frustrated being marked. We gave her some options, and it worked in the long run. She put some big goals in when we needed them.”
On Love’s chopping block for her senior season is her coach’s school scoring record. With 90 goals to her credit throughout her first three seasons, Love is 30-some goals away from taking down Adamshick’s record from the Black Knights’ state runner-up bid in 1998.
“Coach has been pushing me to break her record,” Love said.
The Ross Twp. resident and her teammates have aspirations of repeating this season’s success. Lake-Lehman returns all 11 starters.