Sophomore forward McKenzie Mitchell has grown well into her increasing role with Salisbury’s field hockey team this season. In her second season donning the maroon and gold, Mitchell has matched her goal total from 2018 through just nine games.
Mitchell said she goes into each game focused on being better than the last.
“[I’m] just focusing on being better that last practice and game every time,” Mitchell said. “I don’t want to be complacent in every game. I go out there and I want to be able to improve my play every time, so if I just keep doing that, that’s all I can ask.”
As a 2018 graduate of Pocomoke High School, Mitchell is no stranger to being part of an elite field hockey program. During her first two seasons on Pocomoke’s field hockey team, the Warriors won back-to-back 1A East Regional championships in 2014 to 2015 and secured the 2015 1A state championship over Patuxent High School.
Being part of a high school program with a winning culture has led to Mitchell’s success at Salisbury. This season, the third-ranked Sea Gulls are pursuing their 22nd Capital Athletic Conference championship in the past 25 seasons and NCAA Tournament success.
Mitchell said she is motivated and hungry to win a sixth national championship for Salisbury.
“Pocomoke field hockey was such a winning team and always striving to go out there and win the state championship every year,” Mitchell said. “I really think that drive has really made me want to come out, and all the girls like Dom and locals, just everybody has really made us want to come out here and win the national championship.”
By committing to Salisbury, Mitchell would be reunited with former Warriors teammate and current junior goalkeeper Dom Farrace.
Farrace has seen Mitchell improve from high school to the present and enjoys watching her teammate’s aggressive play from the cage.
“I think she’s so much more aggressive. I have so much more fun watching her,” Farrace said. “I loved playing on the field with her at Pocomoke, but bringing it to Salisbury is a whole nother level.”
But her improvement as a player is not the only thing helping his Salisbury team. Her increased role as a leader has been important for the Sea Gulls.
Farrace said she has seen Mitchell not only push herself, but her teammates at practice to improve and get better every day.
“I think Mitch is bringing really good energies to the field,” Farrace said. “She’s pushed everyone, she’s held everyone accountable. She is really hungry this year and has pushed herself individually.”
Seeing young players step into larger roles on the team is a testament to the ability to develop talent. Head coach Dawn Chamberlin has 30 years of experience in developing young Sea Gulls, and Mitchell is no exception.
Mitchell has felt that her game has improved tremendously thanks to staying locally at Salisbury, and she is grateful to be coached by a National Field Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame field hockey coach.
“My skills were decent, but just being coached by coach Chamberlin, she’s improved my play by so much, and I couldn’t ask for a better coach,” Mitchell said.
On a perennial contender with so many weapons on attack, standing out can be difficult, but McKenzie has shown the ability to lead the charge.
Mitchell’s offensive improvement from last season has caught the eye of Chamberlin. She said she admires Mitchell’s eagerness and hunger to score every chance the opportunity presents itself to her.
“Mitch has come in this year much more fit and more mature in terms of the college game, and she’s been able to really help us out this year,” Chamberlin said. “She’s got a really nice shot, a quick shot, and she’s eager to score and that’s what you have to be … if you’re not hungry to score, you’re going to miss some opportunities.”
The family aspect of Salisbury field hockey, which reminded Mitchell of her high school experience at Pocomoke, contributed to her staying local.
Senior midfielder Arielle Johnston, a Crisfield native, has also seen Mitchell’s hard work and passion on the field. Johnston knows that if there is anyone on the field she can count on, it is number 15 in the maroon and gold jersey.
“Mitch brings such a fire every time she steps on the field,” Johnston said. “I personally love having her out there in front of me because I can always count on her to make the most of whatever roll she gets because she works so hard, and you can count on her to put it in the back of the net.”
After adjusting to the college game in her freshman season, Chamberlin believes Mitchell knows how to find success.
“She now knows what it’s like and what she needs to do at this level to be successful, and she’s really picked up the pace of her game,” Chamberlin said.
Mitchell currently has a team-leading eight goals, with five goals in her last three games. The Sea Gulls offense has 13 different players that have scored at least one goal this season.
Chamberlin believes that the Sea Gull offense will give opposing defenses challenges with Salisbury’s ability to spread the ball around.
“They’re very unselfish. If you look, we don’t have anyone with an exorbitant amount of goals,” Chamberlin said. “We got a lot of people with an average number of goals, and that’s a good thing because it makes us more difficult to defend.”
Coming off their only loss of the season to second ranked The College of New Jersey, Salisbury outscored its next three opponents by a total of 14 goals.
Farrace credits the offense improving over the past two weeks as a key factor in its current three-game winning streak.
“I think the offense has really been pushing themselves on the field for the past two weeks. We’ve been really pushing ourselves in the practices to get better offensively,” Farrace said.
While individual success is important, every member of the SU field hockey team is focused more on the success of the team and their quest for a national championship.
Mitchell believes that the chemistry among the team is what has helped the team find success this year.
“It’s not just my play that’s making the team win games, it’s everyone gelling together and just coming together and making the wins matter,” Mitchell said.
By BRANDON STARK
Featured photo: Sports Information image.