When McKenzie Moran is on the soccer field, she has a motor that never quits.
That nonstop effort led the incoming freshman forward to an accomplished high school career in West Virginia and could very well be the reason she makes an immediate impact in Spokane.
“The thing that sticks out is McKenzie’s work ethic,” said Moran’s high school coach, Ben Eng. “She just works so hard, it’s unbelievable. She never cuts any drills short and makes every rep count.”
It's a work ethic that has been instilled in her from a young age. She grew up in an athletic family — her father, Matt, played college football at Ball State University in Indiana and later coached the sport.
“The one thing that you can always control is effort,” Matt said. “As long as you are giving everything you have, good things tend to happen.”
With a 15-year-old brother and twin 12-year-old sisters, McKenzie is the eldest of four siblings. All of them have a similar passion for sports and seem likely to follow a similar path to their older sister.
Raised in Utah until she was 13, McKenzie always played sports. Her main focus was on basketball and soccer where, until a late growth spurt, she was one of the smallest players. However, she used her natural speed and work ethic to show she had the makings of a special athlete.
After she moved to Barboursville, West Virginia, as she entered eighth grade, McKenzie’s West Coast roots still had an impact and eventually helped lead her to Gonzaga.
In spring 2017, McKenzie traveled to Las Vegas to guest play for a club team from Utah that was familiar with Moran from her time in the state. There, she was first noticed by GU coaches.
“It doesn’t even take a coach’s eye to notice that she just has great motor,” said Chris Watkins, head coach of GU women's soccer. “She glides like a gazelle and just keeps going and going. That’s something that is hard to coach. Her idle is just moving faster than everyone else.”
Not long after a visit to GU’s campus, McKenzie knew that Watkins, the team and the school were the right fit and committed before her junior year of high school.
“I loved Gonzaga when I came out and visited," McKenzie said. "I had looked at other schools too, but I fell in love [with GU] and couldn’t really see myself going to any other college,” McKenzie said.
In West Virginia, McKenzie chose to attend St. Joseph Central Catholic High School instead of Cabell Midland High School, a larger public school close to where she lived in Barboursville. She chose a tightknit community over a larger school with established athletics. To those who know her, this was no surprise.
“Team is everything for her,” Matt said. “She opted to go to St. Joe’s because she wanted to make the program better … She helped build the program.”
At St. Joe’s, McKenzie became arguably the best athlete in school history. Over the course of her decorated career, she was named all-state every season, won West Virginia Forward of the year, and her career culminated with being named 2018-19 Gatorade West Virginia High School Girls Soccer Player of the Year her senior year. The soccer field was not the only place that McKenzie excelled, as she graduated with a GPA over 4.0 and was a state champion runner.
During the fall of her sophomore year, McKenzie won the state title in cross country while only being able to run when it did not conflict with soccer. She then improved the following spring, as she won four track state championships in the 400, 800, 1,600 and 4 x 800-meter relay.
“I would classify McKenzie as a once-in-a-generation, transformational player,” Eng said. “She’s by far the best player at St. Joe’s ever and one of the greatest in West Virginia history."
Eng isn't the only coach who views McKenzie this way.
“I remember when I saw a video or her running cross country and just saw how much of a fighter she was. You could tell she just wanted to win so badly,” Watkins said. “We need people in our program who are willing to do what it takes to win, and she clearly does.”
Through all this success, McKenzie gained press and notoriety in the local media. But she is not one to seek attention and would much rather help others succeed, especially on the soccer field.
“Assisting is probably one of the things that I enjoy [doing] most on the field,” McKenzie said.“I enjoy playing as a team and building up passes from the back.”
A team-first mentality led McKenzie to be a three-time captain in high school, where her actions set the tone. This included practicing four times a day at points when the team would have two-a-day practices, with extra conditioning and shooting sessions after normal practice concluded.
“[St. Joseph] was 4-16 the year before she came.” Eng said. “She is a culture creator; that’s why I had no doubt in making her a captain as a sophomore. I knew she would lead by example and affect the whole team.”
During her four years, McKenzie helped the program improve every year. The team finished with 20 wins her senior year as she pitched in 40 goals and 20 assists.
Not many players have the impact to lift a program that McKenzie did at St. Joseph. Eng deemed her career so special that he retired her No. 2 jersey after her senior season. He had to surprise her with the honor because he knew she would be embarrassed by all the attention directed her way.
While the jersey retirement and awards are fond memories, the work that got her there is what stands out to those who know her well.
“When I think of McKenzie what sticks out most are the smaller moments,” Eng said. “The fact that she would stay an hour after practice to do shooting drills with me stays with me more than even the winning goals she had.”
McKenzie fits the type of team-oriented player that Watkins wants to center GU around. She will face challenges as she adjusts to the collegiate level of play but she’s no stranger to what it takes to compete.
“I just enjoy watching how hard she works,” Matt said. “Whether the team was up big or down, she works as hard as she did in the first minute in the 90th.”