Coach Andrea Ames and her Meridian girls' soccer team gathers after every game and selects a player of the match.
It's usually a democratic process.
Following the Trojans' 2-0 win at La Conner on Saturday, Sept. 22, no discussion was necessary. Lexi McKinnon deserved the honor.
"It was one of those things where everyone knew it was coming," Ames said in a phone interview.
McKinnon has emerged as one of the top goal scorers in the Northwest Conference during her first full season. The Meridian sophomore has scored eight times, ranking sixth among league scorers, and has helped the Trojans to a 4-3-2 conference record (7-3-3 overall). She also has three assists.
The production has been welcoming, but it hasn't been a surprise.
During the short time Ames saw McKinnon play last year, she said her young goal scorer had, and still does have a knack for scoring that's hard to explain and can't be taught. "You either have it or you don't," Ames said of McKinnon's skill set and hustle.
"I put in a lot of work over the summer," McKinnon said in a phone interview. "Making varsity my freshman year was my goal."
McKinnon accomplished that objective, but five minutes into the 2011 season opener at La Conner, her season came to an abrupt end. Not before she gave Meridian a glimpse of its soccer future, though.
In the fourth minute of her first career varsity game, she received a pass from Taylor Lunde and scored her first career varsity goal.
One minute later, McKinnon tried to gain possession with a slide tackle and fractured her right femur.
"I was just going in for a tackle like I normally do," McKinnon said. "Another girl was going for the ball at the same time. I put my right foot in for the ball. I don't remember why it happened, but my leg bent back weird and I broke it."
Season over. McKinnon's hope for a strong freshman varsity campaign - gone.
"When it first happened I was kind of in denial," McKinnon said. "I thought I'd be back by the end of the half, but by the end of the game I realized, 'OK, next game.' After a week, it really started to set in. To almost have (soccer) taken away was hard."
She avoided the doctor for a week, but decided to go after Meridian's athletic trainer couldn't determine the injury due to the immense swelling around McKinnon's knee.
The diagnoses was a fractured right femur, mostly in the bone's growth plate on the lower part of the leg just above the knee. She was on crutches and wore a large knee brace for two months. Another month passed before she could run full speed.
Even though Ames hardly saw McKinnon play, she learned plenty about her character and passion for soccer.
"She sent a good message to her teammates that 'I'm here for you,'" Ames said of McKinnon. "One of the things I like about sports is it's so relevant toward life. Being part of a team, she showed she is going to be there."
Rain or shine, long trip or short, McKinnon was by her team's side.
"I came to every practice and sat there," McKinnon said. "I went to all the games and traveled. I definitely still wanted to be a part of the team even though I was a crippled."
McKinnon received tremendous support from Ames and her good friend and teammate Janessa Murphy, though McKinnon said the entire team rallied behind her.
That team camaraderie has carried over to this year. McKinnon said all her teammates are friends, and Ames said in her 20 years of playing and coaching she has never been on a team that gets along so well. McKinnon also credited senior captain Trinell Carpenter for keeping Meridian in high spirits.
The Trojans compiled an 11-10 record in 2011 and lost in the first round of the Class 1A State Tournament in a 5-4 shootout. Taylor Lunde and former Meridian forward Randi Donahue established themselves as one of the top offensive combos in the league, scoring a combined 28 goals with 20 assists.
McKinnon said she learned a lot seeing the two play.
"Watching Randi, you can't help but learn when you watch someone like her play soccer," McKinnon said. "She's a fearless player. Watching her and Taylor last season ... it just made me want to play like that."
And McKinnon has. She's combined with Lunde to give the Trojans one of the best offensive duos in the conference. Only Sehome's Emily Webster (13 goals) and Hanna Tarleton (8) have combined for more goals than Lunde and McKinnon.
"I think part of the reason they're so good together is just that they've both played a lot of soccer," Ames said. "Meridian soccer wasn't their first time playing. They both have a very good understanding of the game and both make dangerous runs."
Meridian is first in the 1A NWC standings and is on course for a postseason berth. McKinnon said the Trojans need to maintain their aggressive approach the rest of the season, while she'll look to duplicate outings like her three-goal performance against Friday Harbor or her special match against La Conner.
On the same field McKinnon broke her leg against the same La Conner team, she scored both goals during Meridian's 2-0 win.
Not a bad way to put closure on a past injury.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.