(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
“I definitely do take responsibility when we lose.”
And such is the life of a goalkeeper. Senior McKinzie Olson, a 5-foot-9 Cottonwood Heights, Utah, native, is entering her fourth year as a starter for the nationally-recognized BYU women’s soccer team. That attitude and feeling of responsibility is what makes her so successful and has taken her collegiate career to a whole new level.
Olson spends approximately 2,000 minutes per season in front of the net as BYU’s last line of defense against the enemy. She’s never let in more than 15 goals in a single season and knows her role on the field translates to considerable amounts of pressure on her.
“There are some games we lose that I can look back to see it was definitely my fault and I have to deal with that,” Olson explains. “Other times when I’m analyzing goals I let in, I have trained myself to be able to say, ‘There’s honestly nothing I could’ve done to prevent that’ and that helps me move on. From there I can try to identify what I, or the team, could have done better. Losing isn’t a feeling I like feeling.”
Her abhorrence for losing has pushed her to become one of the greatest goalkeepers in BYU history. Olson is in the BYU record books with the second most career saves in front of the net and second most career shutouts. Her goals-against-average and save percentage have been consistently ranked in the nation’s top 10 since her freshman year.
“When I came to BYU, there was already a starting goalie that had put in a good year for the team and seemed to be the obvious choice for the position. In the first game of that season she started over me and we ended up losing. So the next game they threw me in for the second half just to see what would happen and I actually did pretty well.”
Over the next few games, Olson took her turn as keeper and eventually earned herself an official starting spot after just five or six games. A freshman in the goalkeeper position, however, can be a little tricky.
“I knew I was going to have to work extra hard as a starter. It was definitely awkward at first as a freshman to tell the seniors what to do on the field but as a goalkeeper, you’re kind of like the general on the field. You can see things that others can’t so I just had to learn fast and fill that role so I could help my team. I talked to Jen [Coach Rockwood] about it and she said that was something I really needed to get over or the whole team would suffer. After that, I knew I just had to do it.”
And do it, she did. Olson embraced her leadership role and started 16 of the team’s 20 games, ranked fourth nationally in save percentage, was named to the SoccerBuzz.com Freshman All-America Second Team and helped lead BYU to its fourth-straight NCAA appearance.
“Freshman year, the highlight was definitely the opportunity we had to host the NCAA tournament, which is pretty rare. We were matched up against USC, who had won the championship the previous year, and we took them all the way to PKs but didn’t win even though we all played so well.”
In her sophomore season Olson says she was confident coming in as the starting goalie, knowing she had some experience.
“The thing that left an impression on me most from my sophomore year was that I was able to come in and have a year under my belt as the established starter. I had the confidence to direct the team and feel like I had the right to do that. I felt like I really did belong on the field and with the team.”
In Olson’s sophomore and junior seasons she combined for 137 saves and 22 shutouts while starting every single game in the two-year span. In her junior year, Olson helped lead the Cougars to a shutout victory over New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference finals and another trip to the NCAA tournament.
“Junior year had a lot of highlights but number one was probably playing UCLA in the NCAA tournament. It was a huge game and everyone played so well. It was unfortunate we didn’t win but that experience was priceless. Another highlight was winning the conference tournament over New Mexico in our last year with the MWC.”
A move to the West Coast Conference, a soccer powerhouse with two national championship teams, has highlighted Olson’s senior year thus far as the team is well into its regular season play and already competed against some very talented programs.
As competition heats up, Olson knows she will be tested in goal more often but also that she has a few things to fall back on; things that count for more than winning.
“My grandpa played football here back in the 40s, he was a quarterback, and wore number 32 so that’s actually how I chose my number. He died literally two weeks before my freshman season started at BYU so he wasn’t able to see me play where he also played. Ever since then, before every game, I’ve always done something or said something out loud to him right before the whistle blows and I’m convinced he’s there to watch every single one of my games.
"The last thing I remember about my grandpa is one time we were talking about soccer at BYU, he raised his fist and said ‘block some goals for me’. That was his sign that he would use to encourage me to be my best. I want to make sure he knows I haven’t forgotten his legacy and everything he did for me.”
Before each game, Olson says she always does the same thing.
“When I finally get to the goal by myself before the game I set my water bottle down, jump to touch the crossbar once and then crouch down for a short prayer. After the prayer, while I’m still on the ground, I raise my fist and point up in honor of my grandpa. That’s when I know I’m ready for the game.”
Another motivator is simply the opportunity to be an ambassador for the University everyday.
“My favorite part about playing at BYU actually has nothing to do with playing soccer. I love that, with my team, we can do devotionals and be a part of something bigger. We have more of a purpose here than just to win games.”