Oct. 19, 2004
By Elliott Finebloom
FSU Sports Information
There is a lot of confusion surrounding where goalkeeper Joy McKenzie came from. She lived in Brandon, Orlando, Apopka, Ocoee and Longwood, FL and she isn’t even sure what part of the state she was born in except knowing it was south Florida. She moved to Texas during her freshman year of high school so despite growing up in Florida many people consider her a Texan. The other misconception is that she was a walk-on who just stumbled into the FSU program. While McKenzie did walk-on, she was an invited walk-on. The coaches knew about her and wanted her at FSU. The only part of the Joy McKenzie story that is clear is where she ended up, as one of the best goalkeepers in America.
Part of the confusion surrounding Joy is the fact that she moved around and that really caused her to fly under the radar as far as recruiting was concerned. When you move from Texas to Florida in your freshman year of high school, the chance of getting noticed by college coaches through your club team is next to impossible.
“Moving around had an impact on my club options,” said Joy. “By the time I got to Houston, at that age people were already established at clubs they have been at for years. It is hard to break into a situation like that. There was one club team that some of the girls in my high school played for and they were the only people I knew. There may have been teams where you get more exposure and that was a drawback of moving. You are out of your element and you really have to try and learn a whole new set of rules in a sense.”
The other way college coaches find the country’s top players is through the Olympic Development Program (ODP). Joy did not participate in ODP because she was too busy playing other sports especially volleyball, which was in direct conflict. So one of the things that made Joy a great keeper, her athletic ability the she refined playing other sports, also helped to keep her off the recruiting radar.
So the summer before her senior year in high school Joy decided to take her future into her own hands when she came to FSU for goalkeeper camp. Why FSU? Well Florida State University is in her family’s blood. Joy’s mom, dad, cousin, sister, second cousins, aunts and uncles all went to FSU. Overall, she said the amount of her relatives that graduated from Florida State reached double digits. That didn’t necessarily mean Joy was destined for FSU as well.
“I had a choice on schools,” Joy recollected. “My parents always told me I could go wherever I wanted. I grew up coming to FSU football games and being a Seminole fan. It was my choice to come here but you can’t help but be influenced by the long list of Seminoles in my family.”
When she came to Tallahassee for camp, she did enough to impress the FSU coaches that she was invited to play for FSU in the fall of 2001. They warned her that she would be one of three freshman keepers coming in that fall and one was a highly recruited scholarship athlete. That did not deter Joy.
“I knew I was going to be one of three keepers coming in,” said Joy. “That wasn’t a surprise to me. I saw it as a challenge. I spent time doing all different sports in high school so I never really committed myself to soccer or any other sport. I felt if I came to FSU and actually had some training I would see how far I could go. I thought the first step to see if I could match up would be not shying away from the challenge of playing with two other freshmen keepers including one who came in on scholarship.”
Joy came in as a raw talent. She had never received any keeper training by an actual goalkeeper coach and everything she had done was based on pure athleticism up to that point.
“I was raw when I came to FSU,” remembers Joy. “I never had a goalkeeping coach in my life. I always had coaches that were head coaches and I just got thrown into the mix. They threw me out there and told me to save balls. I had camps on and off where I would learn some stuff by watching other people but I never had one-on-one training on a consistent basis.”
Joy got that training from day one at Florida State working with former goalkeeper coach John Galas her first two years. She knew she was raw but she even surprised herself by how much she still had to learn about the position.
“Getting a fulltime keeper coach my first year in coach Galals was pretty special,” Joy recalled. “That every day repetition and the techniques I learned, mixed with some raw talent was amazing. Coming here helped me develop so much.
“I was amazed how much I had to learn when I started training. I was so naïve. I hadn’t played soccer that long, starting age at 12 or 13. It was very new to me. Everything was so different than what I knew. I liked it and was happy to know there was a lot of improvement I could still make. I wasn’t near the best I could be and I had a lot further to go. That was good news.”
Joy continued to work hard and improve but she also continued to wait for her opportunity behind fellow freshmen and then fellow sophomores Kerry York and Ali Mims. Sitting at third on the depth chart was tough for Joy but she didn’t give up hope that she would get her chance.
“Coach Galas had been telling me for a while that I would get my chance to show wait I can do,” said Joy. “It was just a matter of when that chance would come. There were really hard times when I wanted to just forget the whole thing and there were times I thought my chance was coming only to see it slip away due to one circumstance or another. I had support from a lot of people but especially coach Galas. That kept me motivated.”
Joy did finally get her chance although it didn’t come the way she had hoped. Her sophomore year she moved up to second on the depth chart when Ali Mims fractured her leg in a preseason scrimmage at Georgia. Joy saw spot duty in five games that season playing just over 120 minutes. Heading into the spring campaign Kerry York was sidelined as well leaving Joy the job for the entire spring season.
“It was a shame that the chance had to come because both Kerry and Ali were injured but that is how it came,” said Joy. “I really believe had the injuries not played a role, I would have gotten a chance to prove myself at some point down the road. It is hard to know what would have happened but I believed in my heart one way or another I would get a shot.”
While Joy may regret how the chance came about, when she got that opportunity she took advantage. With Joy between the pipes, FSU went the entire spring of 2003 without allowing a goal. The combination of Joy in net and the Seminole defense in front of her set the stage for a big junior year for the keeper.
“I think I really turned a corner during the spring season of my sophomore year,” remembers Joy. “I got to play all of the games and we did not allow a goal all spring. That was exciting as a team and as a defense. I really got a lot of experience and it gave me some confidence that I did not have before that.”
Joy opened the 2003 season as FSU’s starter in goal and the first start of her career came against 19th-ranked USC on a Friday night in front of almost 800 fans. The Tribe was sporting the highest preseason ranking in team history at No. 12 and Joy couldn’t help but have some nerves.
“My first start was nerve wrecking but it allowed me to get out a lot of the jitters that I had but I definitely didn’t play as well as I could,” she said. “I learned from that. It allowed me to take the next step and get over some things I needed to get over.”
Things got worse as Joy opened her career at 1-4 as the Tribe struggled to get anything right. A season that opened with the highest expectations in school history was on the verge of collapse and Joy couldn’t help but wonder what role she was playing in the disappointing start.
“As a goalkeeper and as a competitive person, I hate being scored on,” said Joy with a little bit of disdain. “I can never sit back and give the goal scorer credit for a great shot. That season we were supposed to have this great year and we got off to this terrible start. We were competing really well but not getting results. I wondered if it was my fault we were losing. Was I giving up goals I should have been saving?”
If she was, it didn’t last for long. After the 1-4 start, Joy allowed four goals in the next five games, all FSU wins. Joy missed her next start versus Virginia, a 3-2 FSU loss, but when she returned to the starting 11, FSU went on one of the most magical runs in team history.
After losing to the Cavaliers the Seminoles were 6-5 and the team needed to get back on track or face once again losing control of the season. That was when the streak began. Joy and her teammates shut out the next seven opponents on Florida State’s schedule while posting a 6-0-1 record. Joy set a new record for the longest consecutive shutout streak in team history with 739:22 of scoreless soccer, which was almost five times as many minutes as she had even played entering the 2003 season. What the Tribe did in ACC games during that run was even more amazing. Joy did not allow a goal in an ACC game for 532:29, which was more than double the previous record. She set a new Florida State record with four ACC shutouts in a season and she recorded them in succession. Her four ACC shutouts were also a career record that she established in a period of two weeks.
“That run was great,” said Joy breaking into a smile. “The defense was playing incredibly. The whole team was playing amazing. I think we finally got back to the same mentality we had in the spring. The whole team came together on the sole goal of team defending. We were all adamant that it wasn’t going to be easy to score on us and we proved that. We proved we were a great defensive team. It was amazing. It was a great time. It was awesome to be a part of a team effort like that”
The streak took FSU from 6-5 to 12-5-1 and carried them into Chapel Hill, NC with a chance to finish second in the ACC and just a half game behind UNC for the conference regular season crown. When UNC scored 67:07 into the match it halted both McKenzie’s regular season and ACC shutout streak but in defeat, she opened the eyes of the soccer world.
Head coach Anson Dorrance called McKenzie’s seven save performance versus the Tar Heels `an absolutely brilliant performance’ and it was one of the reasons Dorrance eventually voted for McKenzie as an All-American.
“Everyone who plays soccer knows who Anson Dorrance is,” said Joy. “He is an icon in the sport. Listening to those comments really gave me a lot of confidence in my abilities. It was a great conclusion to what had been a great run for our defense.”
While the goalless streak came to an end, the Tribe’s magical season continued. Joy recorded another shutout to open the NCAA Tournament and once again helped to lead the team to new heights as the Tribe advanced all the way to the College Cup. With Dorrance’s words still fresh in the ears of the soccer community and an All-ACC Tournament honor under her belt, Joy became a media darling at the College Cup and the focus of an ESPN feature.
“It was nice to get media attention,” said Joy. “It was flattering but a little surreal. I wasn’t used to that. It all came at once in a big wave. I took it for what it is worth knowing the next day it could all be gone. I tried to have fun with it while it lasted. I still haven’t seen those interviews yet.”
When Joy stepped out onto the field in the national semifinal, her story really came full circle. From the day she stepped foot on campus to try and sell herself at the Patrick Baker Soccer Camp to her two seasons spent as the third string keeper to starting in the final four. If Joy thought the interviews were surreal, this was hard to describe.
“The jitters before the College Cup were different than any I have ever had before,” remembered Joy. “It was almost like you were playing for the very first time but it was in front of 8,000 people and on national television. All the things surrounding the game intensify the impact of the situation. The interviews and the press conferences and everyone knowing who you are. It was exhilarating and an experience of a lifetime.”
Despite a disappointing outcome versus UConn in the final four Joy’s magical season still had a few surprises in store. She received Dorrance’s vote for All-American but he wasn’t the only coach who thought highly of her play. The keeper that nobody knew about was named a second team all-region selection by Soccer Buzz and third team by the NSCAA.
“It was hard to comprehend. I strived for two years just to win a spot and then there are awards coming in. I wanted to prove to people I could actually play and that was more important than the recognition. I was blown away by it all,” said Joy.
None of it measured up to the Joy’s ultimate honor. It came this past spring when her teammates voted her one of three captains. That meant more to Joy than any of the records or streaks set during the 2003 season.
“Being elected team captain was the biggest honor of them all,” said Joy with the utmost sincerity. “It meant that the people I worked with day in and day out felt like I would make a good captain. It is one thing to get an award based on stats or from people who see you play a few times. It is another thing when the people who have been with you every step of the way for three years give you an honor like that. It was the most meaningful thing that happened in my career.”
And that is saying a lot.