Photo of Mackenzie Worthy by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
BELTON-There are only a few minutes left until the UMHB women’s soccer team kicks off its match against LeTourneau on this September Saturday night. Seeking its ninth straight win, the Crusaders are huddled up, just as they do before every game.
At the center of that huddle is Mackenzie Worthy. She brings the energy, and that level of emotion and passion continues throughout the 90-minute match, as UMHB plays with obvious confidence, leading to a 2-0 halftime lead and a 6-0 victory.
The “vocal leader” aspect is notable, but what makes it more interesting is the fact that Worthy is fairly reserved and quiet off the field. It is a personality that UMHB head coach Barry Elkins has seen often through his time in the coaching profession.
“She’s really a quiet individual,” he said. “She’s pretty reserved. But she’s the one that brings energy to our team.
“She’s the most unassuming, respectful, quiet person, and then it’s like ‘Whoa, where did that come from?’ That’s the way she plays, but that’s also pregame.”
Through three years in Belton, the senior forward has established herself as someone willing to take charge, especially in the offensive attack. Through nine games, the native of North Richland Hills, Texas, has five goals, the second-most on the roster. Though her humility is such that she has no intention of bringing the attention back to herself.
“My teammates have just been putting me in great spots to score,” Worthy said before UMHB’s ASC opener against ETBU on Thursday. “I’ve been scoring, but other people can also step up. Coach said yesterday that we have eight different people who have scored a goal. That’s one of the great aspects of our team. We have so many people who can and will score.”
The depth has played no small role in the undefeated start. UMHB’s relentless offensive attack does reach points of success based on precise passing and visible chemistry, especially amongst the midfielders and forwards.
But Worthy is also especially good at creating scoring opportunities on her own, something Elkins has noted. She is comfortable with the ball in her possession, and has a green light from the coaching staff to shoot whenever she feels an opportunity is at hand. That says all you need to know about the trust the team has in Worthy.
“We expect it from her,” Elkins added. “She has a great shot.”
Since transferring in from St. Francis College in 2021, Worthy’s shot has been an asset to UMHB’s scoring attack. As a sophomore, she was one of four Crusaders to score four goals, and last year, her seven goals ranked as the second-most on the team. The improvement has continued into this fall, as she has five goals along with a trio of assists.
But this season has been slightly different from years past, considering the fact that leading scorer Maria Rico graduated following the 2022 campaign. That elevated Worthy’s responsibilities within the Starting XI.
“She fed off Maria, and helped Maria be successful,” Elkins noted. “But without Maria, she knew, ‘Okay, I have to be the one that’s going to step up.’ She knew coming in [to 2023] that she had to take on a bigger role. She’s accepted her responsibility and is doing a great job of it.”
Worthy has embraced that responsibility, especially when it comes to being a senior. The Crusaders once again have a senior-laden roster, but plenty of younger players are seeing minutes on the pitch as well, especially as the season progresses. She has made sure to offer encouragement and welcome those newer roster additions into the fold as one of UMHB’s unquestioned leaders.
“I always try to encourage them and be supportive,” Worthy said of helping the team’s younger players along. “It’s always great to see new people get playing time. Everybody who has gotten on the field has done a great job. It’s my job to just encourage them and keep pushing them to be better.”
Worthy may have made an immediate impact when she arrived in Belton as a sophomore two seasons ago, but her freshman year was a less-than-ideal beginning to a collegiate career.
After a stellar high school career at Keller, she took her talents to the northeast and Brooklyn’s St. Francis College, a D-I institution. Playing D-I soccer in one of America’s biggest cities was appealing, but unfortunately for Worthy, her freshman year coincided with the Covid pandemic.
And with strict Covid requirements in New York City, the metropolis essentially shut down, which left ripple effects all the way down to the campus and soccer experience for Worthy. The season was moved from the fall to the spring, and the field St. Francis used was shared, so access to practice was limited. Not to mention the separation between teammates and students required due to social distancing procedures. It all contributed to Worthy making the decision to return home.
“It was definitely different than here,” Worthy noted. “Covid definitely had an impact on my freshman year. So I decided to enter the transfer portal. It’s definitely a different experience, going from Brooklyn to Belton.”
Why UMHB? Amongst other reasons, it gave her an opportunity to reunite with Kelsey White and Maren Fields, her former teammates at Keller High School.
“It helped a lot,” Worthy said of coming in, already friends with White and Fields. “It helped with the transition and made me feel more comfortable here.”
But there is also something beyond the soccer aspect that has enhanced Worthy’s experience within the UMHB program. The family-type atmosphere based upon faith makes the UMHB program special, and has undoubtedly strengthened the cohesiveness of The Cru.
“We do team Bible studies every week,” Worthy said. “That’s always a good time to take a break from soccer and dive into The Word and just connect with each other differently.
“I think it helps in getting to know people outside of soccer because sometimes we get caught up in the soccer side of it, but it’s nice to get to know people outside of soccer. That helps build deeper relationships that then translate on the field.”
In Worthy’s time at UMHB, the Crusaders are 40-4-3. They have been near-unbeatable at home, and are off to a 9-0 start this season. It is the final year that she will take the field for The Cru, and she is cognizant of that fact. But she is making sure she stays in the present at the same time.
“I’m trying to enjoy the present, but also know that this is the last time around so I don’t want to have any regrets,” Worthy noted. “I’m just going hard every day.”
Senior players are often asked about “leaving a legacy” as their collegiate careers draw to a close. Most talk about the future of the program, what they have brought to the team, and what they hope to leave behind.
With UMHB’s program, it seems to be a continual build towards success year-in and year-out, strengthened by a bond that the entire team shares. And as she looks into the future, Worthy hopes this year’s senior class has left behind an example to follow that will allow the freshmen and sophomores of today to lead as the juniors and seniors of tomorrow.
“The team atmosphere that I’ve felt since I’ve been here [is special]. We encourage one another and build each other up. I hope that we’ve made all the freshmen feel welcome and that they’ve felt that atmosphere that we’ve created here. I hope they continue that legacy on.”