Credit: Owen Main / Mustang News

When Mackenzie Samuel arrived as a freshman to Cal Poly, she didn’t come in expecting to play. She accomplished many feats in her prep career, such as helping her team go 20-0-0 during her junior year of high school and only allowing two goals.

But those accomplishments didn’t matter anymore on the first day of training camp for Cal Poly Women’s Soccer.

Many with her record and name coming into the Cal Poly program would not expect to be placed fourth on the depth chart. Additionally, she entered a program with a losing record from 2015-2019.

Samuel knew she couldn’t take it personally or let it beat her up that she had to prove herself.  She did what she does best: fight.

Samuel got the starting nod with eight games left in her freshmen season in 2021 and took over a team that was 7-6.

It was not just her play that made her the new starting keeper for the Mustangs; it was also her attitude.

Samuel is that player who is both a game changer and leader for her team.  She is consistent and someone other players want to be around.

Head Coach Alex Crozier noticed that Samuel made an “impact right away.” 

“It was pretty clear early on that we play better with her on the field,” Crozier said. 

Now heading into her junior season, Samuel – named the 2022 Big West Goalkeeper of the Year – is again taking the pitch as the starting goalkeeper for the Mustangs. 

As she became more comfortable in her new setting away from home, she grew into a leader.  This led to her teammates naming her a captain this season, along with senior Olivia Ortiz and junior Emma Brown.

The takeover

Her first start as a freshman came against CSU Bakersfield and there was no looking back.  

In the remaining games, they went 6-2, including wins over UCSB and Long Beach State.  They reached the Big West Tournament Championship and lost against UC Irvine.

She plays her heart out when given a chance, which lead her to being named to the All-Big West Second Team.  

Her accomplishments in her first season don’t end there.  In her first two appearances, she shut out the opponent, including four shutouts total in her freshman season and only conceded six goals in 728 minutes.

Crozier noticed that she has grown as a player since playing for Cal Poly. She has become “more vocal, more directing of things and coaches on the field,” Crozier said.

Samuel agrees with Crozier, saying she “took little pieces from each of their games [three goalkeepers above her] and tried to like mimic them, and I think they were really inspiring and helped me grow significantly.”

She became an even better player in her second season at Cal Poly.  She received another starting nod from Crozier and started in 16 games for the Mustangs.

More achievements

Samuel had an inspiring second season as the third Mustang to receive the Big West Goalkeeper of the Year award, in addition to being named to the All-Big West First Team.  Writing her name in Cal Poly’s books also included her tying for the third most saves in a match in program history with 13 recorded saves against Stanford.

Last season, she had seven shutouts and a streak of 416:13 minutes without giving up a goal.

Whenever she is on the pitch, she “expects the highest of [herself],” and is “always striving to be better.”  Even though she has accomplished a lot and has earned the starting role, she does not feel done yet.

Samuel doesn’t think she needs to ease up on practice or training.  She shows up every day willing to learn.

This season, her goal is to win the Big West Goalkeeper of the Year award for the second time.

Not just a top athlete

Off the field, Samuel’s performance matches her drive to succeed in her on-field role.

Starting in high school, Samuel pushed herself academically and graduated in the top 10 percent of her class.  At Cal Poly, she is majoring in engineering with a concentration in aeronautics.  

With a heavy course load and the full-time commitment to soccer, she knows how to “separate school and soccer,” and when she is on the field, she “locks into [a] mindset.”  For her to be the most productive the next day, she knows that going to bed at a decent hour is the best for her.

“I do know that when she’s on the field, she’s competing,” Crozier said about her multiple commitments on and off the field.

This season, her advice for the freshmen is to “Give yourself grace.”  From personal experience, she knows that players won’t be perfect all the time in practice or in games.  Samuel admitted that she was probably too harsh on herself and today wishes she would have given herself space to make mistakes.

“Every day, you have the opportunity to just be a better soccer player and a better person and it really helps you grow individually,” Samuel said.