McKenzie wins 500th game as Westview softball head coach
Ronda McKenzie's run as Westview's head softball coach has been nothing short of remarkable.
Rare is the coach who starts a program from the ground level and constructs it into a state flagship. Scarcely do you see a skipper stay at the same school for an extended time period and reap the rewards of that loyalty with wild amounts of success. McKenzie is the only manager Westview has ever had, the mogul of a program that's produced a state championship, more Metro League titles than one can scribe on the outside of the Wildcat dugout wall and helped mold players into collegiate prospects worthy of having their education paid for at the next level.
As the high school softball scene, kids and parents have all changed over the years, McKenzie's been the model of consistency, racking up victories at a ridiculous rate. On April 22, McKenzie won her 500th game as Westview's head coach as the Wildcats beat Aloha 7-2 at Aloha High School. The ever-humble McKenzie was quick to credit others for her success, pointing to the talent and assistant coaches who have come through the program over the years.
"It means I'm old and been doing this a long time," McKenzie said with a laugh. "But I've been really fortunate to have some great players. It's a great school to work at. Being a teacher in the building really helps me connect with the kids and keep the program strong. I've had great support from the administration, my husband (Mike McCallister) and the parents throughout the year. It's been a real blast. Coaching softball is a huge part of my life and it's been a lot of fun."
The win was straight from McKenzie's school of softball. There was great defense, stellar pitching from Julia Jordan, timely, two-out hitting from the likes of Taylor Alto and aggressive base running with McKenzie constantly waving in runners from third base with her left arm. These images have become all too familiar over the years at Westview where victories are the standard.
McKenzie, who coached at Monroe High School before taking a phyiscal education job at Westview when it opened, is the third-winningest coach in state history. Over 25 years she's averaged 20 wins a season, which is mind-boggling in this day in age of player empowerment, lenient transfer rules and new schools cropping up across the Beaverton School District that flatten the talent level. To produce that many victories at a public school, with no guaranteed stream of exceptional talent coming in from year to year, speaks to a coach at the height of her profession.
In terms of impact on her program, McKenzie is about as hands-on as it gets. She designs and carries out strength and conditioning programs for each of her players both during the season and in the offseason to ensure each is making the necessary gains in athleticism and strength. Drive by Westview's hitting facility in the fall or winter and it's customary to see the lights on with a JUGS machine spitting out pitches in the batting cage with McKenzie keeping a close eye on her hitters taking cuts. McKenzie takes pride in maintaining teams at the junior varsity and junior varsity two levels, not just to give talented younger players opportunities to play but to instill a sense of school spirit.
Maybe McKenzie's greatest strength is her ability to get players to invest in the team concept and put the squad before themselves. Some players and parents see sports as a ticket to a collegiate scholarship and think personal stats are the only way to get a potential suitor's attention. McKenzie can take a talented group of individuals and persuade them into the belief that individual glory and singular spoils come with team success. That comes with sacrifice. It's not uncommon to see a power hitter to lay down a sacrifice bunt to move a runner over or a slumping star sit for a game in order to give a teammate a shot at helping the team win.
"We're trying to take them back to playing for the love of the game and for their teammates," McKenzie said. "The kids have done a really good job of reminding each other of that."
McKenzie said she's noticed teenagers aren't as resistant to discomfort as they once were early in her tenure. When adverse scenarios arise, their instinct is to recoil. What McKenzie stresses, both to her team and her students in the classroom, is assessing the hardship and overcoming it with hard work. It's not a stretch to see how that missive has shaped Westview the past six years or so. The Wildcats' postseason runs have seen every kind of comeback, from the improbable to the miraculous, to the ever so clutch extra-inning escape. Westview's mettle has been tested many a time in the playoffs and for the most part, the Wildcats have always found ways to scrap, stay tough mentally and physically and thrive under the most hostile of conditions.
"In young girls, there is a lot of fear of failure," McKenzie said. "We teach them to take risks and try to fight that."
As a manager, McKenzie is quiet, competitive and even-keeled on the diamond who can convey her messages without calling out a kid publicly, in the heat of battle. Watching McKenzie's expressions one wouldn't know if Westview was up eight runs, down five or deadlocked in the bottom of the seventh with the bases loaded. In crazy, come-from-behind playoff victories, or deflating losses in the state championship games, McKenzie's demeanor remains the same. Her players lock into her words and carry out her instructions because she's been to the mountain top before. McKenzie, however, is the first to tell you she wasn't always that way.
"My style has evolved," McKenzie. "I was more feisty and crazy to hopefully now more mature and calm. If I acted the way I did back then, I probably wouldn't have a team. Kids are changing and you have to go with the style. I've adjusted to their needs. I love these kids and I think I do a better job now of how I adore the kids I work with. That's not always the case, but I try to."
McKenzie said she plans on coaching and teaching at least three more years. With a young talent base and potential studs such as Jordan, Emma Antich and Zoe Zimmer on the roster, there's no reason why Westview can't win a few more Metro titles and go on a couple more state title runs. With the Class 6A state softball title game moving back to the University of Oregon, McKenzie's alma mater, the incentive is certainly there to go out with a bang. But beyond more postseason opulence, McKenzie said her hope to is walk away with Westview still in intact as a contender.
"When I do walk away I want to leave the program in really good shape," McKenzie said. "That's my goal. I want to leave good, solid traditions and not have the program be void of talent."
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