Even as a fifth-year senior defender, it took Mackenzie Ellis until last Friday to score her first career goal.

With the Michigan field hockey team down by a goal against Vermont, Ellis smacked in the equalizer off a corner rebound in the 10th minute, allowing the Wolverines to pull ahead for a 3-1 win.

“You know, as a really important defender on our team, she doesn’t get very many opportunities to score goals,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “When she got her opportunity, she stuck it, capitalized on it and scored an important goal for us, so that was fun.

“(It) put a smile on my face. I think she enjoyed it and liked it and would like to score a few more.”

But Ellis’ journey toward that goal and a starting role on the team has been a bumpy one.

As a freshman, Ellis was a walk-on and redshirted her first year. She didn’t see much action as a redshirt freshman the next year, either, appearing in fewer than half the Wolverines’ games.

Things began to pick up for Ellis during her third year of eligibility, when she earned a starting spot on the defense in 18 total games. Now in her fifth year on campus, she has earned the position of team captain and leads a defensive unit that has surrendered just three goals through six games.

Her early struggles, however, are what allowed her to become the leader she is now.

“I think it makes me a lot more able to relate to a lot of different players,” Ellis said. “I’m not a player that came in and started their freshman year and never sat a game in their life, so I think that if players are struggling, it makes me a lot more able to sit down with them and offer them advice.”

Added Pankratz: “I think Mackenzie is a wonderful role model for our team. She’s been a good captain, and I think the younger players can look up to her as she leads by example and learn that there is always a path for everybody on the team, and to see her as a wonderful example that hard work pays off.”

Not only has Ellis become a proven leader on the field, she has also taken that leadership into the classroom and community. She earned the Rachael Townsend Community Service Award two years ago and is using her fifth year to complete a master’s degree in management through the Ross School of Business.

“I think that as a student-athlete, at Michigan especially, we are given so much,” Ellis said. “We have incredible opportunities, and we’re taken care of and we’re looked up to by people. I think it’s really important to have perspective and to be able to give back to the community.”

In addition to her work in the community, Ellis remains dedicated to improving her game for the remainder of her final year. Ellis may be a defensive-minded captain, and it may have taken her five years to hit the back of the net, but she has finally shown she is capable of doing whatever it takes to lead her team to victory.

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