MacKenzie Ellertson is no longer a standout forward for the King’s Way Christian girls soccer team. But that hasn’t stopped the junior from staying close to the team this season.
Ellertson stepped away from high school soccer after joining Redmond-based Crossfire Premier, a part of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, which doesn’t allow players from participating in high school sports in favor of nationally competitive schedule.
“It was a tough decision that I had to make,” Ellertson said. “I just think it’s best, these girls will be fine without me, they’ll be great. I just had to pursue my own club.”
But after a lingering stress fracture in her back sidelined her in late August, Ellertson has taken a managerial role with the Knights for the fall season. During practice, she shags soccer balls and helps set up drills.
In many ways, she’s still a part of the fabric of the team.
But she admits it’s tough having to watch games from the press box or sidelines, and not being able to make a difference one the field. Especially since Ellertson first joined the team as an eighth grader after being granted a waiver to allow eighth graders play due to low turnout.
“I miss it a lot. It’s really hard, but these girls are really awesome,” Ellertson said. “It’s awesome being around them.”
Some of MacKenzie’s class of juniors will be five-year players by the time their done at King’s Way.
And they certainly feel the absence of a key component of the team.
“It feels like (we lost her) because I don’t have that person I connect with on the field, but in a lot of ways she’s still there,” junior midfielder Lucy Mohamaddi said.
MacKenzie Ellertson, who committed to Washington State as a freshman, has been an integral part in the program’s growth under coach — and mom — Tina Ellertson, a former player for the U.S. Women’s National Team and Portland Thorns. King’s Way Christian has made state each of the past three seasons, but lost in the first round on each trip.
“I started it with her,” Tina Ellertson said of her first season as King’s Way coach in 2014. “She was with me eighth-grade year. For her not being on the pitch was a little weird. So, to have her picking up balls, supporting the girls, team dinners, being a part of everything. It’s like she’s not really gone. Even though when the whistle blows, you’re like, ‘ah, I wish I had her here (on the field).’ ”
For MacKenzie, it’s the first time she has not been coached by her mom in her life. Born before Tina Ellertson began her college soccer career at University of Washington, soccer and her mom have been synonymous for MacKenzie. She grew up in pro stadiums watching some of the world’s top soccer.
As she grew up, people would ask her if she felt like she was living in her mom’s shadow. Assumptions were made that having her mom as a coach meant her mom would go easy on her.
But MacKenzie never felt that way.
“She’s helped me a lot to be my own player, or a lot different and she’s really supportive, so I’m just happy I got to grow up in that environment,” MacKenzie said.
If anything, she laughed, her mom is harder on her as a coach.
With MacKenzie playing for Crossfire, Tina said it frees her up to weigh in from a different voice, and not feel like she is over-doing it as a coach.
“Being a coach’s kid, there’s a fine line,” Tina Ellertson said. “So, every year we assess. Is she still listening to me? Is she believing it? Is she still developing? I check off all those boxes, but I just want to make sure she got to see everything before college.
“I’m always going to think she can learn something from her mom.”
The Knights (6-2, 4-0 Trico League) have fared just fine this season thus far without their star forward.
Midfielder Elise Schey and freshman forward Aurora Espinoza-Chaney have provided the bulk of the scoring.
“It’s kind of hard, it’s a big transition from not having one of our main scorers, but also one of my best friends on and off the field,” Mohammadi said. “We have her support on the sideline. Not just as a manager point of view, even in the halls she gives us pointers and stuff.”
Junior goalkeeper/ forward Hannah Moats has missed MacKenzie’s presence on the field, but noted that the team this year isn’t dependent on her.
“We’re more of a family,” Moats said. “We love each other and play for each other on the field. Overall, we just miss (playing with) her.”
MacKenzie hopes to finish up high school next winter and enroll early at Washington State in the spring of 2019. She said it getting in the weight room, playing spring season and becoming acquainted with the team will give her a leg up at WSU.
She had multiple Division-I offers beginning in eighth grade. Her commitment to WSU came after a visit, where she said she “absolutely fell in love with it.” Her dad attended WSU. Tina, a notable Washington alum, was taken aback, but now can’t help but laugh at the irony.
“Once I saw her eyes, and once she came home with such excitement,” Tina said, “I was like ‘girl, it’s your dream, it’s your journey. I’m going to razz you a little bit about it, but I am so 100 percent supporting of it and proud of you.’ ”
Before heading to Pullman, MacKenzie hasn’t ruled out a return to King’s Way’s soccer team next season. But she said she’ll cross that bridge when she gets there.
Her mom is assured she’ll be back.
“I bet you 100 bucks next year she’s going to be back,” Tina Ellertson said, emphatically. “I’m calling it. Write that down as many times as you want — she’ll be back.”