HADDON TOWNSHIP – It would be easy to become dazzled by McKenzie Blake’s goal scoring numbers during the course of her young career as a high school girls lacrosse player.
However, the Haddonfield High School sophomore lacrosse player says building up her own individual scoring numbers is not one of the things that motivates her to play the game.
“The only thing I’m interested in,” she said, “is whether Haddonfield has more goals than the other team.”
During the short course of Blake’s career, that has usually been the case. The Bulldawgs are off to a fast start again this year after coming off a state championship season.
Following a sensational freshman season last year, Blake has already scored 105 career goals, just five games into her second varsity season.
Four of those goals came on Tuesday when she played in only one half as the Bulldawgs ran their record to 5-0 with an 18-3 win over Haddon Township.
Blake is not alone in helping the team reach those levels as she is surrounded by a number of fine players on, perhaps, South Jersey’s best small school team.
“This year has been really exciting coming off a championship year,” Blake said. “We have almost all the starting lineup back this year, so we’re able to try different things. Everything looks good so far.”
However, she has been a centerpiece to the team, which in some ways even surprises her mother and coach Jess Blake.
“I knew she was good in youth, but I did not see this,” she said. “I have to say I am a little impressed with how good she is since she’s come to high school.”
Jess has a unique focus on the situation, being both a mother and a coach. She has enjoyed both aspects.
“McKenzie is every coach’s dream.” Jess said. “She works hard. She finishes first in the sprint, runs back on defense. She has a knack for the goal. I’m happy to see things going so well for her because she had a true passion for it.”
McKenzie comes from an athletic family. Jess is a former player and is a long-time coach, including a stint at St. Joseph where she worked before founding the Haddonfield program.
Jess’ son Aiden played on Haddonfield’s two-time state championship basketball team, as well as being a member of the boys lacrosse team.
She sees a sibling rivalry between the two, but it’s all been positive for both teens.
“The two get along very well,” said Jess Blake. “They’re very similar. They’ve very supportive and competitive in the same way.”
McKenie has recollections of having the love of the game ingrained in them during those early, development years.
“I was always just on the sideline,” she said. “My siblings and I, when they were practicing, we were picking up a stick, having pass – watching them -- learning how to play really, and it just carried through.
“Whether it was elementary school, or middle school, I just loved being part of a team. I take my stick with me, really everywhere I go.”
Jess says family members tease Aiden because his goal-scoring numbers don’t match McKenzie’s output. But boys and girls lacrosse are played in two different ways – the boys game being much lower scoring affairs.
Nevertheless, Aiden has also had an accomplished career that will continue when he plays and studies at Cornell next fall.
He lends his full support to his sister.
“It’s definitely cool,” Aiden said. “I always knew she would be good. I didn’t know how good at first, but it’s cool to see how well she did in her fresman year and how good she’s doing this year.”
According to McKenzie, having an older brother to compete against and follow has helped her in the development of her career.
Her and Aiden have put each other through some tough one-on-one practice sessions, each trying to outdo the other with their athletic prowess.
“Aiden didn’t start playing until the fifth grade, but we always had passes or something like that,” McKenzie said. “Recently we go the tuff and shoot together – playing offense, defense. I think it helps me. We teach other different stick tricks and stuff like that.”
Though they are both busy with the own teams (McKenzie plays basketball too), they try to support each other as much as possible.
“We’ve tried to help each other as long as we’ve been playing sports,” he said. “We’ve been playing in the backyard forever – working on our matchups, going against each other, trying to beat each other.
“Neither of us like to lose, so it’s always a fun match”
Haddonfield 18, Haddon Twp. 3
Haddonfield: Wayden Ay, McKenzie Blake 4, Caroline Beckett 3, Ashley Campo 3, Gabi Connor 2, Brooke Fiannaca, Emily Smart. Haddon Township: Leah Howley, Calista Burke, Jamie Cuttera.