Aug. 17, 2012
There is a cabin by a river in Montana. Remote, in a canyon on the Missouri outside of Great Falls. It started as her grandparents' place, and it remains in the family, even though none of the family lives here any longer.
She spent time there every summer and had the kind of experiences that leave you making plans for the next visit, 12 long months away, at the same time you're packing up from your current one.
In her real life she lived in Lake Elsinore, a city of 50,000 located 75 miles from both Los Angeles and San Diego and fewer than 20 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.
They were different worlds. In Montana she was anonymous. In Lake Elsinore she was making a name for herself on the soccer field. As the annual trips continued to the cabin, so did her steady improvements as an athlete, until she ultimately trained herself into a Division I prospect.
An assistant coach at TCU contacted her, guy by the name of Mark Plakorus. The Horned Frogs were interested, but Mackenzie Akins didn't share reciprocal feelings, and she gave Nevada a verbal commitment.
Time passed, and the coach contacted her again from his new job at Montana. He was now a head coach. "He said, `If anything happens, give me a call.' I was like, whatever," Akins recalls.
Something did happen. When an issue with her scholarship at Nevada arose, Akins, whose No. 1 goal in life was to play college soccer, was left without a school, without a team, without the prospect of soccer.
"I'm freaking out at that point, because it's really late in the recruiting process," she said after practice earlier this week at South Campus Stadium, calmly now, with plenty of hindsight.
She remembered Mark Plakorus and his offer, and for the first time she connected the two: Her visits to Montana every summer and the opportunity to marry that with her goal of playing Division I soccer.
Score: The persistent Plakorus. Assist: Nevada. Winner: The Grizzly soccer program.
Plakorus values competitiveness in his players. This is but one example why he wanted Akins on his team at TCU and then on his team at Montana.
Her Lakeside High team went 37-1-2 in Sunbelt League games her four years starting for the Lancers. The one loss: To crosstown rival Temescal Canyon High during Akins' junior year. It gave the Titans the league crown, the one that forces Akins to list three Sunbelt titles on her resume instead of four.
When the two Sunbelt favorites met last spring, Lakeside cruised to a lopsided 4-1 victory behind a hat trick from Akins.
"(The players from the two schools) used to be best friends in middle school," she says. "But then we went to different high schools, and it became super competitive.
"We weren't really friends anymore. We were actually pretty hostile toward each other on the field. So it was really sweet to score those three goals, because I knew the whole team hated me."
Mackenzie, one of Kelly and Shannon Akins' four children, even says, "I lost," when discussing last fall's Homecoming court at Lakeside. She made it from the initial group of 20 to the final five, but she was not voted queen. If you're not first, you might as well be last. "I hate to lose in anything. Winning, that's my favorite."
You can almost see Plakorus nodding his head in understanding and approval.
That competitiveness, combined with 14 years of practice, resulted in a career that will be memorialized in the record books. Akins played club soccer for the So Cal Blues and later the San Diego Surf and was named The Californian's All-Valley Player of the Year last spring.
She scored 45 goals her senior year with 15 assists to lead the CIF Southern Section, one of the nation's hot spots for prep girls soccer, in scoring.
Akins, who has a fraternal twin sister she'll be able to visit when Montana plays at Northern Arizona in October, finished her prep career with 112 goals, super-hero comic-book numbers that make it read like she was toying with fifth graders. A seven-goal game, three five-goal efforts, three four-goal matches and half a dozen ho-hum hat tricks.
She knows those types of numbers won't continue at Montana, and she is fine with that. As long as the winning never stops.
"My goal is to adjust to the college game and play as well as I can for the team in whatever role they need me to play," she says.
"I'm not looking to score a certain amount of goals. I'm just going to try to play my best and do whatever the team needs me to do to be successful."
The family cabin is still there, and Akins still remains a stranger in the state. Her outsider status won't last long, however, because Griz Nation is always quick to adopt a winner.
Her path from Lake Elsinore to Missoula wasn't a straight line, but what matters to Akins is how it turned out.
"I love it here, and that's not a surprise," she says. "I've always loved Montana."
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