In an age when specialization has run rampant in high school sports, Mackenzie Scully preferred to just be special.
She didn’t focus all her athletic time and energy on one sport, starring in both basketball and soccer at Padua Academy.
That didn’t prevent her from being the Delaware High School Soccer Coaches Association’s choice as state Player of the Year for the 2016 season.
“I love playing two sports,” said Scully, a Newark resident who recently graduated from Padua. “When I was younger, I always liked playing basketball more during basketball season and playing soccer more during soccer season.
“They’re completely different games, but I enjoy the different aspects of each and it keeps me in better shape. In basketball, you always have to see that one extra pass, and I think that helps me in soccer. I always try to look ahead before I even get the ball to see where I need to pass it.’’
Scully, whose knack for making the perfect pass from her left midfield spot cemented her soccer reputation, was also one of just 28 girls named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Winter-Spring All-American team.
A separate All-American team exists for those who play girls soccer in the fall. Girls soccer is played in the fall in 25 states and the District of Columbia, in the winter in six states and in the spring in 20 states, including Delaware (Arizona has fall and winter seasons), according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Soccer sprouted in the spring as a girls high school sport in Delaware in the early 1990s because of the availability of fields, referees and coaches opposite the boys’ fall soccer season and away from another fall girls sport, field hockey, which has deep roots and strong popularity in Delaware.
A four-year varsity performer, Scully played on Padua teams that went 48-2-3, won four state championships and went unbeaten in the last 41 games dating to May of her sophomore year. Padua finished the 2016 season ranked No. 2 nationally in the USA Today/National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll.
The difficulty in earning a spot on the field for Padua drove Scully to improve and excel.
“It’s been awesome,” Scully said of being part of the Padua juggernaut. “My freshman year I thought I was mediocre but because of the pressure and all that we had to do I thought it made me a better person.
“All these good younger players keep coming in and you say to yourself ‘I’ve got to play better.’ You make your whole team better and we all push each other. I feel like I’ve come a long way.”
Scully could always be counted on, Padua coach Joe Brown said, for “big-time moments in big-time games against quality opponents” while compiling career totals of 29 goals and 33 assists.
In the 2016 season, that included scoring a fourth-minute goal to ignite Padua’s 3-0 state semifinal win over Wilmington Charter and setting up Padua’s lone goal in its 1-0 victory over powerful Ocean Lakes High of Virginia.
In this year’s 4-1 state championship win over Caesar Rodney, Scully’s 36th-minute cross found the head of Megan Mallon, who delivered the Pandas’ second goal.
“When Mackenzie gets it on the left side, no one can stop her,” Mallon boasted afterward. “She gets by everyone. She finds the open person.”
“She will spread the defense out,” Brown said. “She will wear out that right back all day long. If she beats the defense and gets in [to shoot] – boom! She has the speed to do that. But she’s always crossing balls to set up goals.”
One of those serves from the corner set up Arryana Daniels’ goal that gave Padua its initial edge in a 3-1 state championship triumph in 2015 over Caesar Rodney.
A slick Scully delivery had also led to Daniels’ goal – Padua’s second – in its 3-1 win over CR in the 2014 state final.
As a midfielder, Scully also had to play a key defensive role while maintaining a tireless work rate.
“It’s a great honor to have your hard work recognized,” Scully said, “when you’re the person who’s on the side, so you’re not always scoring the goals.
“My main role was beating my defenders to the baseline and being able to cross the ball, putting it in great position for my forwards so they can score goals. That’s how you get the goals. Scoring the goals is nice but the ball has to get there somehow. But I couldn’t have done it without our forwards. They have to be there to get the ball. They made the great runs.”
Scully, who played club soccer for the Delaware Rush, will attend the University of Delaware, where she’ll study athletic training eyeing graduate school for physical therapy. She hopes to play on the UD women’s soccer club team.
“I love dual sport athletes,” Brown said. “They’ve learned to use different athletic skills. They’re competing in different arenas. They can take bits and pieces from those experiences and bring it here. Even though her primary sport is soccer, in basketball, as a guard, Mackenzie was the one who controlled the floor along with Megan Mallon.”
Scully said she’s had friends who, sometimes from parental pressure, became so focused on one sport that, eventually, the enjoyment vanished and they grew bored of it.
Variety has spiced up her athletic life and been a key to her success. Scully, who also used to swim competitively, feels being an all-around athlete helped prevent her from ever suffering a serious injury.
“Always playing basketball kept my mind off soccer,” Scully said, “and when I got back into soccer season I was so excited.”
Contact Kevin Tresolini at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @kevintresolini.