Last Updated: Thu Sep 21, 2023 - 1:28AM
The 2017 season will always be fondly remembered for Penn-Trafford girls soccer. The Warriors not only won the WPIAL title that season, but they did so at the expense of their rival, Norwin. One of the biggest components of that Warriors squad was Mackenzie Aunkst, who has since enjoyed a very successful career at West Virginia University. Aunkst is in the spotlight for this edition of the Westmoreland Alum Q&A.
Aunkst had a prolific career with the Warriors, as she was a three-time All-Section performer, twice garnered All-WPIAL accolades, and was All-State in her senior season.
As a sophomore, she contributed to the Warriors going 12-3-1 during the regular season, including 10-2-0 in Class AAA Section 1. In the WPIAL postseason, however, the Warriors came up shy against Fox Chapel Area in the first round.
In her junior campaign in 2016, Aunkst helped propel the Warriors to a mark of 14-3-1 overall, including 7-2-1 in the WPIAL Class 4A Section 4. In the playoffs, Penn-Trafford cruised past Allderdice 6-0, but fell to Mount Lebanon 3-2 in the quarterfinals to conclude the campaign.
It was Aunkst’s senior season that was one for the record books, however. She helped the Warriors achieve an overall mark of 13-3-1, including 9-0-1 in Class 4A Section 4 to claim the section title. Penn-Trafford advanced through the WPIAL postseason, setting up a showdown against Norwin in the title game at Highmark Stadium. The match required overtime, but Aunkst assisted Kiley Dugan on the golden goal, giving PT the WPIAL Class 4A Championship. The Warriors subsequently fell to North Allegheny in the PIAA first round, ending the historic campaign.
In addition to her exploits on the pitch, Aunkst also participated in basketball and track and field at Penn-Trafford, receiving All-Section recognition three times on the hardwood, and twice qualifying for PIAA competition in track and field.
Her future was in soccer, however, as she matriculated to West Virginia University, but redshirted during the 2018 season.
The following season, Aunkst appeared in 19 games, including 16 starts as a defender. During that play, she failed to register a point, but produced three shots. Collectively, the Mountaineers went 12-8-2 overall, including 5-3-1 in the Big 12 Conference. In the conference tournament, WVU fell to Kansas in the quarterfinals. However, the Mountaineers qualified for the NCAA Tournament, defeating Georgetown 2-0 and Central Connecticut State University 1-0. The Mountaineers’ run ended in the round of 16, as they lost to Washington State University.
In 2020, Aunkst started all 14 contests, registering four shots. As a result of COVID, the WVU season spanned both the fall and the spring. The Mountaineers went 10-3-1, including 7-2 in the Big 12. The squad returned to the NCAA Tournament, but fell to Rice in the second round.
Aunkst was limited by a knee injury in 2021, as she started eight matches, notching one assist and four shots. Returning to the traditional fall schedule, WVU went 10-5-5, including 3-3-3 in conference action. In the Big 12 Tournament, West Virginia edged Baylor, but suffered a heartbreaker to Texas in the semifinals via penalty kicks after playing scoreless through regulation and overtime.
Last season, Aunkst returned from injury, playing in 17 games, including five starts. During that action, she registered a pair of shots. WVU went 11-5-7, including 4-1-4 in the Big 12. The Mountaineers captured the conference title, as they defeated Oklahoma State and Texas, and then bested TCU 1-0 in double overtime in the championship. Consequently, the Mountaineers qualified for the NCAA Tournament. After a 2-0 win at home against Virginia Tech in the first round, the Mountaineers were eliminated by Penn State University in the second round.
Back for her sixth season in 2023, Aunkst has started all nine matches. Thus far, WVU is 2-5-2 overall, dropping its initial conference tilt last week.
Mackenzie took time from her schedule to field questions about her recovery from a serious injury, her fondest memory at Penn-Trafford, and who she’d choose to play soccer with.
Q: You have started more than 50 games in your college career. What attributes have allowed you to be a steady presence in the lineup?
A: There have for sure been ups and downs over all that time, and all those appearances. I think when I was younger, my pace and ability to defend got me on the field, then as time went on, it became more about being able to create off the dribble and connect passes.
Q: What has been your biggest area of improvement throughout your time at WVU?
A: I think I’m a lot more composed under pressure. A few years ago, I would just pass to get rid of the ball so I didn’t turn it over. Now, I at least try to make sure my passes are setting up my teammates to succeed.
Q: What were the biggest challenges in overcoming your season-ending injury in 2021?
A: There were a bunch. Last year, I was never really able to find my rhythm on the field because even though I was cleared to play, I wasn’t 100 percent and my body didn’t move the way it used to. The mental side was also huge. I was hesitant for a while because after that injury in 2021, I was pretty close to full speed and then I tore my meniscus right before the season. I still feel like I’m getting back to where I was all this time later.
Q: What team and individual goals have you established for this campaign?
A: I think right now, we are still finding our identity as a team this year. I have been here a lot of seasons - some of my teams were ready right out of the gate, others figured things out later. It’s always our goal to win a Big 12 Championship, but WVU has been to an NCAA College Cup in the past and that’s never out of reach for this program.
Q: You have already faced several ranked opponents this season. How have you evaluated your team's performance thus far?
A: We were in all of those games until the very end. I think in both Penn State and Virginia, we started slow and had to climb back. If we don’t allow those early goals, we win or tie those two games, but there’s a lot of season left to play.
Q: You opted to return for a sixth season. What factors went into that decision?
A: I think my injuries were the biggest motivator. My career here started so strongly, so to go out hurt and not playing at my full potential would have left a bad taste in my mouth.
Q: What led to you choosing West Virginia for your college destination?
A: It was honestly the perfect fit; a powerhouse soccer program just over an hour away from home with a group of coaches and players who made me feel a part of something. WVU was always the goal for me.
Q: What is your major, and ideal future profession?
A: I majored in sports management. Still not exactly sure what I want to do yet. I would love to use my degree to be involved with professional sports in some way, but I also haven’t ruled out playing at the next level.
Q: You have received Academic All-Big 12 honors in your career. What was the significance of that accolade?
A: A lot of people see what college athletes do on the field, but in reality, we are students too, so to receive that honor was a nice acknowledgement of the work that we have to do on top of sports every day.
Q: You were part of a championship team at Penn-Trafford. What were the best qualities of that squad?
A: I think everyone just knew their role and we played as a team. It also didn’t hurt that we had five DI recruits and multiple college-level players.
Q: What was your fondest high school memory?
A: It had to be playing soccer and basketball with my sister her senior year. We grow up watching each other's games, but to finally be playing together and in multiple seasons was pretty cool and definitely something I’ll never forget.
Q: You also participated in basketball and track and field at PT. How did those sports benefit you?
A: I think being a multi-sport athlete was so critical for me. Playing different sports not only developed me physically, it also gave me a mental break from the other sports so I didn’t get burned out.
Q: If you could play soccer with one person, past or present, who would you choose? Why?
A: I would have to say my old roommate and former teammate Isabella Sibley. She now plays for Crystal Palace in England. She was just such an unselfish and technical player on the field, and she’s one of my closest friends off of it.
Q: If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A: Easy - pasta.
Q: What advice would you give yourself as a high school freshman?
A: Don’t be afraid to do things that make you nervous or uncomfortable. Sometimes, those things can lead to amazing opportunities.