The timing could not have been better for Mackenzie Watkins to enjoy a solid season of soccer.
Sure, the global pandemic had already thrown a wrench into the first few years of the Nursing degree that the 21 year old graduate of Marymount Academy had spent at Cambrian College.
But to then throw in a summer of GSSC soccer in 2022 that was anything but ideal - well, let's just say Watkins and company would have had every reason to be downtrodden as the fall OCAA arrived last September.
"Our summer season got pretty much tanked; we didn't get much of a season," said Watkins, a few months after the Golden Shield women advanced to the playoffs, edging the Redeemer Royals 3-2 and then putting up one heck of a fight in dropping a 1-0 decision to the Humber Hawks.
"This was definitely a good experience," added Watkins. "To actually have a full, normal season was really nice."
An all-around athlete who followed in the footsteps of her older sister (Taylor), Watkins was far more drawn to the pitch, recalling with pleasure the excitement of joining a Valley East all-star team of nine year-old girls coached by Marilyn Bodson - when she was just seven.
"It (soccer) was definitely a sport that I enjoyed and would put an effort into," she said. "I used to play everywhere (every position) as a kid, but I was more attacking minded and wanted to be scoring goals."
"When I joined Marilyn's team, that's when I became more about defense and offense and found the midfield and really enjoyed it."
Continuing to develop through to her teenage years, Watkins would join the regional satellite program that was offered at that time under the guidance of Brian Ashton. "When I started doing that, coaches told me I could pursue post-secondary soccer; that's when it clicked in my head."
With a full slate of OCAA battles on her docket, the multi-sport athlete who teamed up with fellow Marymount product Angelina Lam to capture a bronze medal at OFSAA in the badminton C dvision bracket would draw upon her U21 soccer experience with coaches Chris and Matt Binks as a base of expectations for her jump to the collegiate ranks.
"I thought I was fairly well prepared only because some of the players who play in the U21 competitive league also play in the OCAA," said Watkins. "I was given a little glimpse of the types of players we would be playing against."
"It wasn't a huge shock with the level of skill."
That feeling apparently permeated right across the Golden Shield roster as the team inaugurated their season with a win and a tie and kept rolling from there. "Evan (coach Evan Phillips) had set out a schedule to get us to provincials and we were ahead of that schedule," said Watkins.
"I was doing my research, checking out stats on the other teams. It's something I have always been interested in."
More than anything, Watkins was thankful for the chance to enjoy a sense of engagement, her contributions as a center defensive midfielder both helpful and appreciated. "That's pretty much my home spot," she said.
"I feel comfortable there and really do enjoy it, getting to play both sides of the ball. I really enjoy making those plays and attacking and I can get the odd opportunity to score - and I like defending too."
"It helps keep me more well-rounded in my skills and abilities."