Haddonfield senior McKenzie Blake has grown up around the school’s girls lacrosse program for the majority of her life, with her mom becoming the program’s first coach when it was created back in 2009.
Naturally, it would only make sense that after all those years of watching the girls on the team before her that McKenzie herself would grow up and go on to be one of the greatest players in school history.
However, claiming the program record for goals in a career — in only two and a half years nonetheless — would’ve seemed like an overly ambitious mark for McKenzie to reach during her time at Haddonfield Memorial High School.
But McKenzie has done just that.
In a first round matchup against No. 16 Collingswood in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group I Girls Lacrosse Tournament, the No. 1 seeded Haddonfield Bulldawgs cruised to a 20-0 victory on Tuesday, June 1.
McKenzie scored five goals in the effort, bringing the senior’s career total to 211, surpassing Gretchen Kiep’s record of 208 originally set back in 2013. After the first round victory, McKenzie and her teammates still have the potential for three additional games in the tournament, giving McKenzie the opportunity to add onto her lead before playing for Princeton next year.
Looking back, head coach Jessica Blake says she had some initial hesitation about how her daughter might play at the high school level, but a friendly and cooperative junior and senior class during McKenzie’s first two years allowed for an easy and effective transition.
“It was very exciting,” said Jessica. “I wasn’t sure how she was going to translate from youth into the high school team but she made an immediate impact and she fit in well with that year’s junior class and the girls that were already there her first year.”
During her freshman year, McKenzie led the team in points with 108, tallying 85 goals and 23 assists while also playing smart defense, according to her coach. While better known for her attack and offensive prowess, Jessica also says McKenzie’s defensive work often goes under appreciated, in her opinion, because of the eye-popping numbers she racks up throughout the season.
“She is better known for her attack, her options and ways to beat a defender never cease to amaze me but I don’t think people really give her the credit she deserves for her defense,” said the coach. “She’s an all-around talented player.”
Growing up around the program her whole life, McKenzie looked up to countless girls that came and went through the program, creating relationships that still stand to this day.
“I’ve been on the sidelines since forever,” said McKenzie. “All those girls on the teams before I got to high school were my biggest role models. The first couple classes to go through the program are still people I stay in touch with to this day, they were my baby sitters and I followed their college careers after they left.
“Ever since I was in like third grade, I couldn’t wait to get to high school and actually see what it was like to get to high school and play high school lacrosse and be coached by my mom,” McKenzie added.
McKenzie’s teams during her freshman and sophomore years both went on to win the NJSIAA South Jersey Group II Tournament, despite McKenzie sustaining an injury halfway through her sophomore year that sidelined her for the remainder of the season.
Back in time for her junior season, the pandemic took away even more playing time from McKenzie, leading her to make a light-hearted comment to her mom during the off year.
“She brought it up last year when COVID first hit, that ‘I guess I’ll never be able to get that scoring record,’” said Jessica.
“At first when we knew the season wasn’t going to happen it was a whole bunch of emotions at once but then a few days later I realized I won’t really have the chance to go after it,” said McKenzie. “I always kind of had it in the back of my head after that first year because I knew Gretchen Kiep had the record and she was one of the people I looked up to a few years ago.”
Fortunately for McKenzie, she was wrong about that assumption, and was able to break the record after scoring 82 goals so far this season.
McKenzie says two of the biggest reasons she feels she’s been able to reach such an accomplishment are the teams she’s been around and the extreme desire to win each and every game.
“We’ve been so successful, I feel like, because we all wanted to win so badly,” said McKenzie. “No one was selfish or focusing on personal goals or themselves ahead of the team and what we wanted to do. I tried this year to not look at the record at all and if it happened, it happened, but a few of my teammates kept their eye on it and would always remind me so I was still aware of it.”