McKenzy Long, East Mecklenburg Girls’ Soccer: McKenzy Long was enjoying her senior year at East Mecklenburg, when all of the sudden everything changed.
Long was having reoccurring nose bleeds, and decided to go to the doctor to have it checked out in December.
While the doctor was working on her nose, he noticed a lump on the left side of Long’s throat.
After multiple tests, including a biopsy and ultrasound, doctors learned Long had papillary thyroid cancer and would need surgery to remove it.
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“When the doctor first told us I had cancer, I was calm, but then when I was driving home it all hit me and I started bawling,” said Long, noting she found out Feb. 15. “Just hearing the word cancer is a really scary thing, especially when you are in high school.”
While the news was shocking to Long and her family, if you think it was going to stop her, think again.
Long, a senior, co-captain on the East Mecklenburg soccer team, has had a history of overcoming adversity.
Her freshman year, her soccer season was cut short in April, when she was diagnosed with mononucleosis.
Her sophomore season came to an end, when she found out she had compartment syndrome and eventually had to have surgery on both her right and left legs. At the time, doctors worried if she would ever be able to play soccer again.
But Long returned the next season for both her East Mecklenburg and Charlotte Soccer Academy teams. She did miss two games in junior season with a severely sprained ankle.
Long, 18, admits her experiences have only made her stronger.
“I know because of my past injuries and surgeries that I can get through anything, and this will just be a bump on the road,” said Long, admitting the support of mom, Jenny; dad, Keith; and sisters Mykayla and Mia has been huge. “Everything I’ve been through has taught me how to work hard. I’ve been to back to ground zero, where I couldn’t walk, and then back to playing (soccer) at a high level. This time, I knew had to keep going.”
Long didn’t miss a beat, as she told only a few, close friends about her condition hoping to help make her everyday life be as normal as possible.
Long hasn’t missed a game this season, as the center midfielder leads her Eagles (5-4) team with 11 assists and is second on the squad with nine goals.
Long has had several big games as she opened the season with four goals and an assist in a 7-1 win at Berry and also had two goals and three assists, apiece in 9-0 wins over Harding and Rocky River, March 13 and 14, respectively.
While Long says the support of her family, friends and teammates has driven her, she is also inspiring them.
Long decided to tell her entire, East Meck team about her condition earlier this month, and they have rallied around her.
One of Long’s best friends on the team, fellow East Meck senior, Maggie Fletcher, presented her with a blue, pink and teal bracelet that reads: “No one fights alone.” Those bracelets are now worn by the team and some other students.
Long will have surgery on April 6, the same day East Mecklenburg plays at Rocky River.
While Long won’t play in the game, she plans on being there as a fan, which doesn’t surprise her East Mecklenburg soccer coach, Tim Long (no relation).
“That’s just who she is, she’s been through adversity and injuries and just keeps coming back,” Coach Long said. “A lot of people would have given up, but McKenzy is a fighter. She’s never going to give up.”
Long plans on using her spring break April 10-16 to recover and be back in the lineup when East Mecklenburg returns to action, April 21 vs. Garinger.
No matter when she returns to the field, Long has a lot to look forward to this season and in the future as she signed to attend and play soccer at Lander University.
Long, who also boasts a 4.73 grade-point average, is excited about studying elementary education.
While Long’s journey the last four years hasn’t always been easy, it has taught her lessons that will last for a lifetime.
“Honestly, what I’ve learned most is never to give up,” Long said. “You have to enjoy everything while it lasts and never take anything that you do for granted. You have to enjoy everything in the moment. I’ve had a lot of tough times, but it’s only made me enjoy the good things in life even more.”
Katie Herrmann, Ardrey Kell Girls’ Soccer: The Ardrey Kell freshman, center midfielder had a game she will never forget, scoring both goals in the Knights’ 2-1 victory at defending, 4A state champion Providence onMarch 17.
Herrmann, who has five goals and three assists this season, also had a goal and two assists in 9-0 over Harding on March 14.
The Knights (4-3-2 overall) are tied for first-place in the SoMeck8 conference with Charlotte Catholic.
Meaghan Quinn, South Iredell Girls’ Soccer: The South Iredell senior forward helped South Iredell to a historic, 2-0 victory at Lake Norman, March 14.
Quinn scored the first goal as the Vikings became the first Iredell County team ever to beat Lake Norman.
Quinn came back two days later, scoring both goals in a 2-1 victory over Mooresville.
Quinn has seven goals this season, helping South Iredell to a perfect 5-0 start.
Lissi Gordon, Community School of Davidson Girls’ Soccer: The Community School of Davidson senior forward also had a historic week, scoring three goals in 14-1 victory over Bessemer City, March 15, to become her program’s all-time leading scorer with 75 goals.
Gordon, a Liberty University signee, has six goals and two assists for the Spartans, who are off to a 7-1-1 start.
Alec Burleson, East Lincoln Baseball: The East Lincoln senior left-hander had a big week on the mound and at the plate to lead the Mustangs to wins over Bunker Hill and Newton Conover.
Burleson’s biggest game of the season so far came at Bunker Hill on March 14 as he went 4-for-4 at the plate with six RBI and two doubles. In the same game, he went seven innings on the mound, allowing five hits, no runs, while striking out 11 batters.
Burleson, an East Carolina signee, is hitting .524 on the season, and is also 2-0 on the mound with 23 strikeouts and a 0.41 earned run average (ERA).
Timmy Townsend, Providence Baseball: The Providence junior pitcher continues to pitch big in big games.
Townsend went six innings allowing only one run on five hits while striking out eight batters to help the Panthers (5-2, 4-0) beat rival, Ardrey Kell, in a battle for first-place in the SoMeck8 conference March 17.
He also tossed a shutout (1-0 win) against defending 3A state champion, Marvin Ridge on March 3.
Townsend, a pre-season All-American pick by Collegiate Baseball, is 2-1 this season with 2.32 ERA and 19 strikeouts this season.
Makayla Cuthbertson, Butler Softball: Butler softball coach Kurt Wessler moved the Bulldogs’ freshman into the leadoff last week, and Cuthbertson responded going 7-for-7 at the plate with eight runs, a double, a triple and five RBI to help her team to victories over Myers Park on March 15, and Rocky River on March 17.
Cuthbertson is hitting .652 this season with three triples, seven stolen bases and 10 RBI, to help lead Butler to a 6-2 (3-0 in the Southwestern 4A conference) start.
Akira Rhodes, Mallard Creek Track: The Mallard Creek junior won the 60-meter hurdles Emerging Elite title at the New Balance Nationals on March 10-11 in New York City.
Rhodes capped off her standout winter season, as she also won the 4A state indoor championship Feb. 11 in the 55-meter hurdles, breaking a 14-year state record, finishing in 8.03 seconds in the process.
Mariah Howlett, Lake Norman Charter Track: The Lake Norman Charter junior posted the state’s best 3200-meter run for the second week in a row, clocking a personal-best 10:37.39 at the Cannon Invitational on March 16, nearly 20 seconds faster than her time a week ago. Her time was the 17th-best in state history.
Howlett also has the No. 1 1600-meter run time this outdoor to date, with a 5:04.03 at Forestview on March 7.
Gracie Whelan, Providence Day Track: The Providence Day senior won the 400-meter dash as the Marvin Ridge Invitational, March 18, setting a meet record in 56.61 seconds.
Whelan, a Brown University signee, ran her personal-best, 400-meter dash of 56.37, last spring to win the CISAA conference championships.
Quinn Schneider, Woodlawn School Track: The Woodlawn School senior got off to a strong start to his outdoor season, winning the 800 and 1600-meter runs at the Cannon Invitational, March 16.
Schneider, a U.S. Naval Academy appointee, ran a personal-best 2:05.06 in the 800-meter run.
Schneider, the defending NCISAA 1A/2A state champion in the 3200-meter run, also finished 10th in the 1600-meter run two days later at the Marvin Ridge Invitational.
Rhodes Karriker, Charlotte Christian Golf: The Charlotte Christian senior won the Tar Heel Invitational Golf tournament, March 17, shooting an even-par, 70, to finish on top of the 74-player field at Tanglewood Park Golf Club.
Karriker’s play also helped the Charlotte Christian team finish 4th overall at the same event.
Braxton Tracy, Cannon School Golf: The Cannon School junior was on his way to school, March 10, when Coach Pat Whisenant called him to see if could play in the Wildewood High School Invitational that day, with teammate Tim Bunten suffering from 104-degree temperature.
Tracy turned his car around, went home, got his clubs and clothes, and joined his Cannon School team at the Wildewood High School Invitational in Columbia, S.C.
While Tracy shot an 82 that day, he came back the next day and shot a 71 to help the Cougars win the tournament, and give him a top 20 finish individually.
Megan Flesch, Charlotte Catholic Girls’ Lacrosse: The Charlotte Catholic junior had a historic week, scoring her 100th career goal in the Cougars’ 16-12 win over Myers Park, March 16. She had four goals in the game overall.
Flesch, a University of Richmond commit, also helped in Catholic’s 15-1 win over Charlotte Catholic on March 14.
Braeden McCarthy, SouthLake Christian Lacrosse: The SouthLake Christian sophomore is playing multiple roles for his team as he is not only a standout midfielder, but also is the main faceoff guy, in the attack and leads the man up, man down rotation for his team.
McCarthy had a big week leading the Eagles (3-2) to a 13-5 win over Covenant Day, March 14, scoring four goals and three assists, while also winning 10-2 at Wesleyan Christian, March 16, with five goals and two assists.
McCarthy has 25 goals this season and has won 75 percent of his faceoffs.
Joey Matthews, Ardrey Kell Tennis: The Ardrey Kell senior, captain led the Knights to victories over Hough, March 13, and rival, Charlotte Catholic, March 16.
Matthews, who is 6-1 in singles’ play this season, won both of his singles’ matches, including a 6-1, 6-2 win over Catholic’s No. 1 Jack Deering to help Ardrey Kell (7-1, 5-0 in SoMeck8) to a 8-1 victory and sole possession of first-place in the SoMeck8 conference.
Matthews, a Duquesne University signee, is ranked No. 13 in the state for his age, according to tennisrecruiting.net.
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
HELP US FIND THE ATHLETES
This season’s finest highlights high school athletes with outstanding performances. Information published today includes statistics through Mfarch 19. In most cases, the athletes featured will come from sports that don’t get a lot of recognition. However, the goal is to recognize excellence. If you want to suggest someone to be included in This Season’s Finest column, send email to Jay Edwards at email@example.com. Please include the athletes’ name, school, class and applicable game performance statistics. Coaches must be willing to verify information.