MOORESTOWN – McKenzie Blake has essentially been part of the Haddonfield High School girls lacrosse team throughout her entire life.
With her mother Jess Blake serving as the only head coach in the program’s history, McKenzie grew up on the Bulldawgs’ sideline watching the older girls play as she awaited her chance.
Now that Blake is a freshman and eligible to play at the high school level, she has turned in a season for the ages.
The team leader in goal scoring, she added five more tallies Tuesday as the Bulldawgs advanced to teh state croup 2 championship game with a 12-9 win over Central Jersey champion Rumson-Fair Haven.
The victory sent the Bulldawgs into state championship match with Sparta on Saturday afternoon at Kean University.
“I’ve grown up watching this team play and I always wanted to play,” McKenzie Blake said. “I watched all the kids, watching what they do and I’m happy getting a chance to win with this team.”
Even now, after watching her daughter put together one big game after another, the coach smiles when asked how special a time this is for her.
“It means the world to me,” said Jess Blake. “She’s been on the sideline since she was born. You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for this . . . it means a lot.”
What makes the story even more notable is the fact that McKenzie has exceeded all expectations for her freshman season.
“I knew she would be a piece,” Jess Blake said. “But the juniors just absorbed her into the offense and I think they made her a better player.”
Most of the upperclass players have known McKenzie for years because of her presence on the sideline.
They welcomed her to the team in the hope she would become just the type of player who could help them win games this season.
“I’ve been watching McKenzie for a while (as a youth player) and I knew coming to our team she was going to help out a lot,” said senior Jaime McCormick, who added four goals.
“Her shot is incredible,” McCormick added. “She gives so much to this team. Even though she’s a freshman, she actually belongs.”
McKenzie credits the fact that she has been around some of the older players for so long with helping her develop so quickly as a varsity player.
“I think it was easier meshing with them, learning what everyone’s strengths are a working together,” she said. “You just have to treat everyone like we at the same age and the same skill level and go from there.”
However, she doesn’t claim to be any more than one piece on a team filled with talented players.
“The teamwork, everyone working really hard at practice,” said McKenzie when asked the key to her success. We work every day we can just getting extra reps and trying to get better.”
It shows on the field. The Bulldawgs are 20-1 this season, their only loss coming to Moorestown. On Tuesday, beat a Rumson-Fair Haven team that finished the season with 22 wins.
They controlled the game the entire way, breaking away from a 1-1 tie early to take a 6-3 lead at the half as McCormick scored three of her goals.
Blake then scored two of the game’s three goals to begin the second half, both coming within a span of 11 seconds as the Bulldawgs got out to a comfortable 9-4 lead.
“When we can win the draw we can work it up there and it’s beautiful, Jess Blake said. “They’re very unselfish players.”
Another goal by McCormick then pushed the score to 10-4 with 14:58 to play and the Bulldawgs were in control.
Rumson did make a run behind Gill Curran scored two of her five goals late in the game, but the outcome was never in doubt.
State Group 2 semifinal
Rumson-Fair Haven 3 6-9
Haddonfield 6-6 12
RFH: Gill Curran 5, Meg McGillis 2, Lily Bidell, Kate Caruso.
Had: Jaime McCormick 4, Caroline Beckett 2, McKenzie Blake 5, Wayden Ay.