If you heard the sound of a foot striking a soccer ball in Owens or Glotzbach Park in Nutley, there’s a good chance you would see Mackenzie Albert.
Whether it was day or night, alone or with company, the fields were a place for Albert to not only work on her game, but a way to relieve the stress your typical teenager deals with on a regular basis.
“Sports help me zone out from other distractions or anything that is stressful around me,” Albert said.” Once I get on a field or a court, it takes everything away. Most of the time, I would be by myself, but sometimes my dad would come or a couple of my friends. I would be out there for an hour or two. Usually until when the lights went out.”
Based on her stellar four-year career at Nutley High School, shutting out the lights might have been the most effective and practical way to stop the talented striker.
Albert’s sensational play on the soccer field places her among the best players to play for the Maroon Raiders in recent memory and has her heading to Iona to continue her career. In addition, Allen was a three-year starter in basketball and was one of the stars on Nutley inaugural flag football team this spring.
This overall package of performance, talent and work ethic makes Albert The Observer’s Female Athlete of the Year for the 2021-22 season. She becomes the fourth girl from Nutley to earn the honor and first since Carly Anderson in 2015.
“When she was on the field, she gave us everything that she had,” girls soccer coach Mike DiPiano said. “There are people that have a lot of skill and give you everything that they have. And there are people that are special players and give you everything that they have. When she was on the field she gave us everything that she had and she was a special player.”
Thanks to his soccer camps, DiPiano knew about Albert before she came to Nutley High School as a freshman.
“We knew we had a special player coming up,” DiPiano said. “When you’re a good club player you don’t know when you’re a freshman player, when you’re playing against high school girls that are 17, 18-year-old girls if you can do it. She scored in the first game that she played and she just went from there.”
Albert hit the ground running, notching a goal and an assist in her first varsity game against Westwood, then doing it again five days later against Ridgefield Park.
“I just played my game. I just played how I usually play,” said Albert. “With a new team, all of the teammates helped me out along the way. I made sure to help them out as well.”
She went on to score 15 goals as a freshman, 14 as a sophomore and 21 with six assists her junior season. Last fall, Albert added 19 goals and nine assists before her senior season was cut short when Nutely had to withdraw from the state tournament due to Covid.
With 69 goals and 25 assists, Albert finished her storied career as one of the top three or four scorers in program history.
“When you talk about Nutley’s great scorers, she’s in the conversation with Zoe (Steck) and Vic(toria Kealy),” DiPiano said. “The totals don’t matter as much as the fact that’s she in that conversation.
“She had a great first touch. There’s a lot of scorers that just run on to the end of the ball or clean up a mess. She could score from anywhere. She had the ability to have the ball at her feet, beat the defender, and then score. She was dangerous from the left, right, center, from distance, in the air. Scorers are special players and she was a special player for us.”
The speed and agility that made Albert one of Essex County’s top soccer talents, also allowed her to be a fine basketball player in her own right.
“In the youth leagues (in town) if you mention the name Mackenzie Albert it’s all about soccer. Most people don’t even know she plays basketball until they go to a game,” girls basketball coach Larry Mitschow said.” She’s so naturally gifted with speed and footwork, there’s no doubt in mind that if basketball was her main sport she would have been able to play college basketball.”
While offense was Albert’s specialty in soccer, in basketball it was her defense that allowed her to stand out. Mitschow usually matched Albert up with the opposing team’s best player, which in the Super Essex Conference’s American Division, meant that she was assigned to guard a Division I talent on a nightly basis in league play.
For her career, Albert scored 446 points, highlighted by a 30-point outburst against Lodi her sophomore season. As a senior, she averaged 6.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while also leading Nutley in steals (44) and blocks (22).
“She’s an athlete and physically and mentally she’s there. When that opening tip happens, she’s ready to go,” said Mitschow. “We relied on her for so many games over the years. She’s 100-percent focused, she’s a great teammate, she doesn’t get rattled. We play in the top tier of Essex County. We play the best of the best and she’s right in the heat of it.”
That mindset led Albert to try flag football this spring as well when Nutley added the sport. Albert, who admitted she knew nothing about the sport before the spring, started the season as a running back before moving to quarterback.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)