In her first three years with the Eagle soccer program, she provided a spark off the bench. Now, as of the six seniors who will be honored at Eastern’s final home game this Friday, senior Kasey McNeill not only starts, but stars.
By Fedor Gaponenko Sports Information
It’s not always about how you start, it’s how you finish.
After coming off the bench in her first three years with the Eastern Washington University women’s soccer team (5-6-3, 2-2-2 Big Sky), senior Kasey McNeill has finally earned a starting role - and the veteran forward has certainly made the most it.
As a freshman back in 2009 - the last time EWU made it to the Big Sky Tournament - McNeill contributed solid minutes as a substitute in 12 of 18 games. That role continued throughout her sophomore and junior years, as she played in 25 of 33 games, averaging 27 minutes per contest. In those first three seasons, McNeill tallied five points with two goals and one assist.
Now in her senior campaign, McNeill is averaging 21 more minutes per game than she did as a freshman, sophomore and junior.
She has started eight of 13 games this year, and already scored twice and assisted on two other goals. And even when she’s not part of a score, she keeps the pressure on opposing defenses. Ten of her 16 shots this season have been on frame - the second-most on the squad.
Not only has McNeill experienced personal growth, but her contributions have helped EWU enjoy quite a turnaround as well.
After two sub-par seasons, in which the team won a combined four games, the Eagles made a giant leap this year. The team has already more than doubled its win total from a year ago, and has scored five more goals than it did in the entire 2011 season.
More impressive than the record and statistics, is how the Eagles did it. Despite starting the year on a five-game losing streak, Eastern kept its confidence and composure, proving again, it’s about how you finish.
This Friday (Oct. 12), the Eagles will face off against Montana in the final home game of the regular season. Before the game, McNeill and her fellow senior teammates will be honored for Senior Day, as they remind us all what it means to be a finisher.
Before Friday’s game, you and your senior teammates will be honored for Senior Day. What will it be like playing your last home game together?
“Freshman year, your coaches tell you that the time will fly by faster than you think. I remember thinking, ‘Yeah, but it is still four years.’ I’ve watched as all the seniors before had their Senior Days, and mine felt so far down the road. But now it’s here, and it’s definitely going to be surreal and kind of sad.”
What will you miss most about playing on the team?
“I made really close friends with a lot of my senior teammates. We were always there for each other. It’s going to be kind of strange, because we are all from different areas, so it will be interesting to see how our friendships continue outside of soccer.”
After contributing as a reserve most of your career at Eastern, what is it like being a starter now in your senior season?
“It’s nice to see all your hard work pay off. Once you start making an impact on the team with assists and goals, it builds your confidence and also the confidence of your teammates that they can rely on you. It’s definitely great not only to be a senior, but to be a starter and contribute.”
What did you do physically and/or mentally to put yourself in the position to earn a bigger role on the team this season?
“Every summer, we have the option to stay in Cheney and work out. This past summer, I put my job and everything that I do at home aside and I stayed around to train. We ran and we lifted, and I think that really made an impact. People sometimes don’t think it makes a big difference to stay, or that they can do it all at home like I did previous years. I always came back in shape, but it is different staying and working out with the team. I definitely think it was more helpful than training on my own.”
What word of encouragement from your experience would you give an athlete who is currently working to earn a starting spot on their team?
“I would just say keep working. A lot of us were the best players on our high school teams. When you get to college though, you might not be the best your freshman year, sophomore year and even your junior year. But if you keep working, by the time you become a senior, it will all pay off.”
The team has already scored five more goals and won twice as many games as last year. What would you say is the biggest reason for the team’s success this season?
“The team we have in place now is here to work hard and work for each other. We came together as a team and realized this could be the year. We have had the talent; it was more about our mentality. The closer we get to potentially having a chance to make it to the Big Sky and NCAA tournament, the closer we get to each other and the deeper we dig.”
The 2012 season started out with a losing streak. How was the squad able to stay positive and turn things around?
“In our other losing seasons, when we lost a game, we would try to stay positive and encourage each other with, ‘It’s okay, we’ll get it next time.’ But obviously, that wasn’t working. This year, a lot of us toughened up on ourselves. We just said, 'This isn’t acceptable because we know what we are capable of.' We had games where we showed our potential - sometimes it was even in a loss to a much tougher opponent. But then in games where we felt we should have won, we would lose. We had to get angry and tell ourselves the reality. I think this really helped all of us hold ourselves and each other accountable, because we know what we can do.”
What are some of your interests outside of soccer?
“I have a lot. I love to shop. I love to hang out with my friends. I love snowboarding - when I have the time or when I’m not worried about injuring myself. I also like camping when I have time. I’m really outdoorsy, but I like a lot of girly things too.”
What do you plan to do after you graduate. Do you have a specific career path you’d like to pursue?
“I’m going into pre-physical therapy, so I’ll be applying to graduate schools. I don’t know which ones yet; I’m looking at a lot of them right now. If I don’t go that route, I want to get my personal trainer certificate and work part time at that, while working as an assistant in a physical therapy office.”
Who is the biggest hero in your life?
“I have a lot, but my biggest one is my grandmother. She passed away last year from cancer. She was definitely a fighter, and is a huge inspiration. I know when I’m on the soccer field, she’s up there watching. When things are hard, I think of her and know she had to go through a lot worse."