Mackenzie Frizzell, like many athletes, went through a rough patch when COVID-19 pandemic restrictions paused sports.
The Port Coquitlam product also endured a torn ACL in her Grade 12 season with Terry Fox Secondary in 2021, making it more difficult to convince post-secondary coaches and scouts to potentially recruit her.
But in spite of the mental and physical challenges along the way, Frizzell recently signed her first professional soccer contract — the culmination of hard work, perseverance and patience.
The 20-year-old goalkeeper put pen to paper in committing to St. Charles FC, a semi-pro women's club in the greater metropolitan area of St. Louis, Mo., and member of the United States League (USLW).
The league is a step below the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), North America's top-tier division for women's professional soccer.
That means Frizzell is also closer to fulfilling her lifelong passion to play with the best of the best.
"It's been a dream of mine forever to play professional and this is a step towards that," she said in an interview with the Tri-City News.
"The club and the coaches already have been amazing and I’m so excited to play this summer. Their attitude of soccer and passion is amazing."
Frizzell and St. Charles FC have begun a 10-game season in the USLW Valley Division, taking place between now and the end of June.
And with the USLW established as a summer league, that means Frizzell can continue developing her skills with her current team at Culver-Stockton College, also in Missouri.
She recently completed her second season with the Wildcats in the Heart of America Athletic Conference in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), starting in 13 games, recording 64 saves and clocking nearly 1,200 minutes of time between the pipes.
Frizzell has earned three conference defensive player of the week honours along the way, including two in the 2022 campaign, and was also named an NAIA scholar-athlete studying elementary education.
She's also earned seven shutouts in her two years to date with Culver-Stockton, which forced the St. Charles FC coaches to take a second look.
Sure enough, the bench bosses for the new USLW franchise at the time were also opposing coaches.
"The head coach Deno [Merrick] and assistant Nick [Luciani] are coaching....and I just had a really good game against [their] team," Frizzell explained.
"And when I found out they were coaching the semi-pro team, I just reached out!"
Frizzell added she credits her Culver teammates and coaching staff for her opportunities to reach the USLW, as well as the rural community of Canton, Mo., which she said provides a "really cool atmosphere" for home matches.
Home is where the heart is
But being immersed in a small town in the American midwest can get a little lonely, Frizzell admitted.
While she is able to focus on her game in reaching her latest plateau, she explained the mental game is where she hopes to improve on this next season.
"Social life is different....it was hard adjusting and not letting outside factors affect my game," she said, believing her goalkeeper instincts have helped her become a better communicator on and off the field.
"Ultimately, every player deals with mental health, but soccer is 100 per cent my outlet for everything and I'm extremely grateful to be able to play the sport.
"Yes, I do miss the Tri-Cities! I miss being able to look up and see the beautiful mountains and go on hikes. That’s been extremely hard."
But Frizzell understands that she has a lot of people cheering her on from 3,333 km away.
She credits her collegiate and professional success to her PoCo Euro-Rite coaches, for whom she played for from ages eight to 17, and even gave her a chance to play in older divisions to develop her game.
Frizzell was the provincial championship-winning goalie for PoCo in the 2020 BC Soccer youth 'A' cup final.
Like her position, she was able to block out any negativity in her development on her journey, which meant sacrificing normal teenager activities to reach her potential.
"A lot of my success has come out passion for the sport; not going to high school parties, social events, hanging with friends. Instead, I would train, stay in or work, all knowing I wanted to continue playing....You have to be selfish in college sports. You have to be able to give yourself the best opportunity every time and seize every moment and that's something nobody can really prepare you for."
Frizzell's master-plan is to reach a professional level of women's soccer, whether that's the NWSL or elsewhere in Europe.
And if she were to get a called to go between the posts for Canada's national team, that would be destiny fulfilled.