The Los Gatos High girls soccer team got an early indication that things would be different from last year when it beat perennial Central Coast Section power Mountain View in their season-opener on Nov. 29. Since then, the Wildcats have done nothing to prove the result was a fluke. They entered the week 3-2-2 overall and 0-0-1 in Santa Clara Valley Athletic League El Camino Division play. This coming off a season in which they won all of one game.
Junior McKenzie Powell is one of those glue players that every team needs in order to be successful. As an outside back, Powell’s main role is to patrol the wing areas and contain opposing players who are dangerous on the attack.
“My highlight is being able to go against girls on other teams who are committed [to play in college] and being able to stop them,” Powell said. “Just getting more playing time as the season has gone on has also been an individual highlight.”
Powell said the team’s highwater mark came in that Mountain View match because it showed the players what they were capable of doing.
“Mountain View won CCS last year so no one expected us to win,” she said. “Everyone was thinking about last season and not winning a lot of games, and so a lot of people didn’t know how to feel after the game. Since we’ve gotten a few wins, we’re still trying to make sure we’re bonded but also our coach [Jessica Ingram] really is trying to get us to have more confidence on the field. Because of what happened last year, we’re not as confident as we should be, so we’re trying to get more girls to get shots on goal.”
Powell is in her first season on the varsity team after playing on the junior varsity squad last year. She’s literally a lifelong player, having started playing soccer since she was 3 years old. She plays the sport year-round with club team Los Gatos United outside of the high school season.
Ingram also coaches at Los Gatos United and thus knows Powell well.
“McKenzie is a strong athlete and an impact player in our program,” Ingram said in a text message to the Los Gatan. “She has a great attitude and a relentless work habit.”
Entering this season, Los Gatos wanted to build a new identity and culture after a tough 2021-2022 season.
“For a lot of the girls, it’s mostly about being closer and having more fun,” Powell said. “But in that, we grew our team chemistry which made us better on the field. For a lot of the seniors who were on varsity last year, it’s been really fun to win while having so much fun in the process.”
Even though Powell has played soccer for virtually her entire life, she’s never been too much of a fan until recently, and she watched the World Cup with great anticipation.
Similar to the literally hundreds of million people across the world, Powell got into the world’s most popular sporting event, viewing as many games as she could not only because they were entertaining, but to help her learn and see areas of her game she can further develop.
“I’ve been trying to watch more the last few years to help me improve,” she said. “Watching soccer at a really high level has really been helpful in building my skill set.”
When Powell took up field hockey in her freshman year, it made her schedule that much busier in the summer and fall months because that is prime time for the high school field hockey and club soccer season.
Playing on the Los Gatos field hockey team—which is the section’s all-time winningest program—has been both spectacular and special.
“The field hockey program at Los Gatos is a lot like the soccer team where it’s family,” she said. “It’s where I’ve met some of my closest friends. Our coach [Henry Reyes] obviously loves to win, but he also likes to see us having fun and improve. His big point is taking girls who have never played before and building them into a winning team. You get new freshmen every year who pick up a stick for the first time and then build them up with confidence and skills, and it’s just cool to see everyone connected from JV to varsity.”
Powell has a broad range of interests, including Spanish and architectural engineering. Last summer she spent three weeks in Costa Rica as part of the Amigos de las Americas program which inspires teenagers into community service and immersion experiences.
Founded in 1965, Amigos is an international non-profit whose vision is a “world where all people are lifelong learners sharing responsibility for our global community.” Powell went with a group to three different cities in Costa Rica, helping with planting and making bracelets which would be given to the surrounding community.
Powell had ample reasons to take the three-week trip, as she’s currently taking Spanish 4 honors.
“I wanted to build my Spanish because when I was younger I had a nanny who spoke Spanish and part of me being closer to her—she died this past year—was to build up my Spanish and solidify my understanding of it,” she said.
And as Powell quickly found out, there’s nothing like being in a foreign country to speed up your language learning skills.
“At the beginning of the program, I was scared to hold a conversation in Spanish,” she said. “But by the end of the three weeks, it didn’t really matter if I was saying the wrong things. Everyone there wanted to help you so it built my confidence and now I can hold a conversation whether I’m speaking perfect Spanish or not. It was a great confidence boost.”