MONROE – On the soccer field, Union Academy’s Caleigh MacKinnon is known for two things – winning and scoring goals.
Off the field, she’s a determined student. She accrued a 4.51 grade point average, which caught the attention of U.S. Soccer. The organization honored MacKinnon on June 27 along with 82 others from across the country with their highest academic honor, the U.S. Soccer Scholar All-American award.
“It’s something that was really cool to get and to be recognized across the country,” MacKinnon said. “I think I am able to handle school and soccer together very well because I think it’s kind of my personality. I give 110 percent in everything that I do, and so I feel like I’m going to excel in one thing I wanted to excel in everything. It’s a big thing in my family that if you do all of the hard work it’s going to one day pay off. That’s sort of the way I approached it.”
That was her winning formula on the field, too.
Since MacKinnon arrived as a freshman, the Cardinals have been terrific. They have posted 79 wins over that stretch, including last season’s 25-1 mark that led to the first state championship in school history.
And MacKinnon was a huge part of it.
In addition to the 75 assists she’s compiled in the past three seasons alone, MacKinnon has developed a knack for putting the ball in the back of the net.
“Mac is a pure goal scorer,” Cardinals coach Vic Johnson said. “She causes opposing defenses a lot of problems because of how fast she is. She gets behind them and puts a lot of pressure on them, and that’s no matter what team we’re playing. That makes our other players good, too.
“She does something a lot of people can’t do because she’s so fast and so aggressive and can score. People have to worry about her, and that tremendously helps us in the long run like it did this year.”
MacKinnon scored 20 times as a freshman and 65 times in her sophomore season, which is the 11th-highest single-season total in state history.
She tallied 55 more last year and added 36 with a career-high 25 assists this season. The decline in goals and uptick in assists was by Johnson’s design to allow more players to be involved and, in turn, make the Cardinals more dangerous.
“It taught me a lot of leadership skills,” she said. “Even though I was a captain and the starting striker and scored a ton of goals my sophomore and junior years, I had to kind of take a step back and look at our team. We had a killer defense and a killer midfield and we were able to make combinations so that was the right thing for us and it paid off.”
MacKinnon netted a hat trick in her final game, earning MVP honors for the state champs. It was a special moment for many reasons, one of which that it was played on MacKinnon’s new home turf.
She spurned some smaller soccer scholarship offers to go to N.C. State, where she will concentrate on being a student. She plans on studying communication and leadership studies with dreams of one day working in sports communication or with a pro sports team.
“I had a small phase where I was really determined to play in college and thought it was my calling and what I wanted to do,” MacKinnon said. “But the more I thought about it, I didn’t want to. My team won states this year, I was named the MVP there and I just thought it would be a good way to end it and focus on the things I’ve never tried in my life and have the best college experience that I can.”
But MacKinnon’s legacy will live on at Union Academy. Not only did she help bring them their first team state championship and win a prestigious national academic award, she is also among the all-time greats.
MacKinnon’s 176 career goals rank 10th all time in the NCHSAA record books.
“She could have gone for the state (goal-scoring) record,” Johnson said. “She could have been very selfish and just went for it. But she took a step back to help us get more players involved and it paid off for us. You know, Mac played 25 games this year, and didn’t lose a single one. The only game that she missed we lost.”
This season was the perfect ending for MacKinnon.
“I knew when I first started during my freshman year how much I wanted to win that state title,” she said. “Our school has never had one and I wanted it to be us. Coming off the field at the state championship in Raleigh, getting the MVP and playing on my college’s field was the perfect send-off. I feel like I had done what I needed to do and it was really good chapter to end on. And to have that all tie in together with this award is perfect.”