Although she never played a minute of girls’ soccer at Lyndhurst High School, Mackenzie Gress was treated like Golden Bear royalty last week, when she signed her national letter of intent to attend Penn State University and play soccer there next fall.
Gress has been a nationally acclaimed goalkeeper since she was a youngster and played for several Team USA squads over her career, including a stint with the 16-and-under national team that traveled to Europe last fall for the World Cup.
She has played for STA, one of the premier soccer academies in the nation, earning her place to get recognized by a major college program such as Penn State.
In fact, Gress has been committed to Penn State since she was a freshman at Lyndhurst High, getting that decision out of the way at an early date.
“It was always my dream school growing up,” said Gress, considered to be one of the top young goalkeepers in the country. “I went to a couple of camps there and just fell in love with the place. They then started to recruit me and one thing led to another.”
So even though Gress never played for Lyndhurst, the school’s athletic director Jeff Radigan set it up for Gress to sign her scholarship letter on the field with her name featured prominently on the scoreboard.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Gress said. “Now I’m officially a Nittany Lion. I was pretty surprised when Mr. Radigan told me of the plans for me to sign my letter here, considering I never played for Lyndhurst. But I’m always going to be a Lyndhurst girl. Mr. Radigan pulled out all the stops. I was very impressed.”
Gress shared the day with her family and friends, one of whom is Enrique Mutsoli, last week’s Observer Athlete of the Week who leads the state in scoring with 39 goals.
“We’ve been good friends for a long time,” Gress said. “I was happy that he showed up for me. He’s a great soccer player.”
Gress said that it was somewhat of a relief that she finally signed her national letter of intent.
“Some pressure has been lifted off of me,” Gress said. “I mean, I made my decision three years ago and nothing was going to change that. I didn’t have to impress college coaches that might have recruited me.”
Gress was also impressed to see her name on the Penn State website.
“I was really proud of that,” Gress said.
Gress will enroll at Penn State in January in time for the spring semester and practices with her new teammates. She will be a student in the school’s health and human development program with the hope of eventually majoring in kinesiology to become a sports scientist.
“But I want to be a professional soccer player,” Gress said. “I think it’s going to be beneficial for me to start school early and adjust to the playing level at such a great school like Penn State, one of the best women’s soccer programs in the country.”
Gress will spend the next two months playing in some games with her club team STA and do some goalkeeper training.
“I try to get better each day,” Gress said. “I will prepare to play in the spring. It’s a possibility that I might play right away and not redshirt. It’s just my time now to shine and getting there six months early will give me a good head start.”
Gress is ready for the next challenge of playing major college soccer.
“I never regretted making the decision not to play soccer in high school,” Gress said. “I’ve had moments when I thought about being with the friends I grew up my whole life with. But I made the choice instead of playing for my high school. I think I made the right choice.”
Lyndhurst’s Mackenzie Gress signed her national letter of intent to attend Penn State University last week at Lyndhurst High School. Photo courtesy of Kim Hykey.
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”