LYNNFIELD — Sometimes, timing is everything, not only in life but in sports.
Usually, it’s the student-athlete who gets the college recruitment process started. Whether it’s attending college showcases or reaching out to prospective coaches and recruiters then hoping to get a positive response in return, most of the time it’s up to that athlete to find a way to put his or herself on a college coach’s radar.
2018 Lynnfield High graduate Mackenzie O’Neill’s road to Division II St. Anselm College, where she’ll play on the women’s soccer team, was far from conventional.
O’Neill, a goalie, begins the preseason Sunday. She said she had no intention of continuing her soccer career beyond her senior year at Lynnfield High.
A two-year starter and four year varsity player, O’Neill had originally made the decision to attend St. Anselm’s for non-athletic reasons and had not reached out to any coaches. Instead one reached out to her.
“I had already put down my deposit at St. Anselm’s and never even thought about playing there or anywhere, for that matter,” said O’Neill, who also played four years of varsity basketball. “But Lizzie (Shaievitz) asked me this winter to play on her Aztecs club team because they needed a goalie. I said that I wanted to focus on basketball, but once March came, I decided to play Aztecs. I didn’t really know it at the time, but Joel Bancroft, the Aztecs coach, also coached the St. A’s team, so that’s how I got to know him.”
O’Neill’s timing was spot on, winning a state championship with the Aztecs. In addition to Shaievitz, who’s also playing at St. Anselm, O’Neill’s teammates included Peabody’s Emily Nelson and Jillian Arigo, who are headed to Division I UMass Lowell and Division II Franklin Pierce, respectively.
“Our team was so stacked and I don’t think we allowed a single goal during the entire state tournament, so I guess coach Bancroft saw that and thought that I would fit in at St. A’s,” said O’Neill. “He wanted me for the Aztecs because while Jillian (Arigo) played goal, her best position was as a field player and coach Bancroft wanted her on the field, so that’s why they wanted mo to join the team.
“Coach Bancroft kept saying that I was going to be there at St. Anselm’s anyway, so why not play. So on May 1, I made the decision to play and now I am really looking forward to it. It will be fun to have another four years to play with Lizzie. I’ll also get to play against Jillian (Arigo), so that will be fun. St A’s definitely has a heavy Cape Ann League influence with a lot of players from the CAL, including the Pratts, Regan and Travis, who played for Masconomet, so again, I feel like I already know people.”
O’Neill said she expects that she will have to pay her dues as the Hawks’ second or third goalie. She also expects the Hawks to be competitive this season after finishing 6-8-2 last year and just missing the Northeast-10 tournament.
“It was coach’s first year and they came really close to making the tourney, but they have a lot of good players coming back from what I hear, so I think the program is moving in the right direction,” O’Neill said.
An honor roll student at LHS, O’Neill was heavily involved in Lynnfield student government, serving as Student Council vice-president, class representative and student advisor. She needed a wheelbarrow to cart away the many awards and scholarships she received on Lynnfield Senior Awards Night back in May. She received the War through a Literary Lens Award, the John O’Donnell Scholarship, the Selectman John F. Donegan Memorial Scholarship, a Student Council Scholarship and the Michael Maney Athletic Scholarship.
An Agganis All-Star, O’Neil plans to major in psychology and, while she isn’t sure where that will take her, she wants to put her skills to work possibly in the medical field, helping the families of persons struggling with serious illnesses or conditions.
“I don’t know what I’ll do with it. I can see myself helping people at hospitals,” O’Neill said. “I’m just very glad that I’m playing and can’t believe I’m leaving Sunday. I don’t know what I would do with myself if I didn’t with so much free time, probably just hanging out. High school sports definitely teaches you how to balance school and academics. Just with practices alone, you aren’t getting home until long after dinner and still have homework to do and I’m expecting that, but know I can handle the balancing act.”