September 2, 2018 10:26:42 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Intimidated isn't a word you would expect Zakirah McGillivary to use to describe her mentality.
Despite being 5-foot-5, the Mississippi State freshman forward is always looking to attack. It doesn't matter if she doesn't have the ball, either, because she is coming to get it so she can take it the other way and wreak havoc.
But McGillivary didn't play that way when she first arrived at MSU.
"My first couple of training sessions I was messing up a lot," McGillivary said. "I was super scared to screw up. (MSU coach) Tom (Anagnost) is hard on us, but it is a good thing he is hard on us because we always want to keep the standard very high. We want to make the program history greater each season."
McGillivary admitted she didn't have any confidence, which played a role in why she wasn't starting a lot at the beginning of the season. She snapped her fingers to emphasize how quickly things changed once she scored her first goal against Memphis and the "switch came on."
McGillivary continued her torrid scoring pace Sunday with her
fourth and fifth goals to extend her goals-scored streak to four in a 4-0 victory against Austin Peay at the MSU Soccer Field.
"I feel way more comfortable," McGillivary said. "When I first came in here, I was intimidated because it is a big conference and I was playing against people who are 21 and big defenders in college. I also am trying to live up to (MSU teammates) MaKayla Waldner's and Brooke McKee's expectations. I wasn't sure if I was going to have an impact. Knowing I am doing that, it feels great knowing my team has that confidence in me."
The native of Brooklyn, New York, is one of 13 first-year players in the program. But she has played with the poise and presence of a much older player, as evidenced by her three game-winning goals. Last week, McGillivary was named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week.
Against Austin Peay, McGillivary started the scoring in the eighth minute by taking a pass from AK Ward on the left side of the box and making a quick touch to the center of the field. The move created enough space for a shot to the lower right corner and a 1-0 lead.
McGillivary displayed a persistence that is becoming her trademark on the second goal. She beat a defender to the ball and again used a quick touch back to the center of the field. With the goalkeeper out to challenge, McGillivary capitalized on the space she made with her first touch and split the players with her shot.
"She is just continuing to grow," Anagnost said. "Her ability on the ball is very good, and she can beat players facing you and with her back to the goal. She is improving steadily."
Anagnost has noticed McGillivary gain confidence as she has had success. In fact, Anagnost said McGillivary has exhibited the maturity of a player who has been there and done that by not celebrating after she scores goals. McGillivary didn't carry on much after the first two goals, which is a sign she is getting more comfortable as someone the Bulldogs look to put defenses on their heels.
McGillivary plans to terrorize defenses with her speed. She said she has confidence in a "good, penetrating touch" she likes to use to generate space. McGillivary said she uses more of the inside of her foot than the outside to make a first touch, like she did on the first goal. Her deft touch is more problematic for defenders because she said her right foot actually is her stronger foot. You might not have thought that Sunday because McGillivary played the ball to her left foot with the confidence of someone who has been doing it for years.
MSU senior Carly Mauldin said McGillivary has made an impact and isn't playing like a freshman.
"Zee has stepped up a lot from when I first met her and played with her," Mauldin said. "I think she has got more calm on the ball. The first two times she would stutter step and stuff like that. Now she is more relaxed. She has the physical body to push people off the ball and hold the ball up, and she has the first, quick two steps out past the defenders. I think that is really key to see her grow."
McGillivary's timing to deliver her first multi-goal game was impeccable because her mother, her grandmother, her father, two of her aunts, her brother, and her cousins were part of an 11-member rooting section at the match. In all, seven family members wore maroon T-shirts with ZEE in white letters on the back replete with white 99s, which is McGillivary's number. Other family members were wearing T-shirts that said "Straight out of New York, with "ZEE 99" in front.
McGillivary said her mother and her aunt who lives in Georgia made the T-shirts to show their support.
"They love me and love the fact I am coming out of New York and I am young," McGillivary said. "I graduated high school early and I am having such a great start here, so they just want to support me."
McGillivary said her family members arrived at 11 a.m. Sunday after driving in three cars from Brooklyn, New York, to see her play in her first match in Starkville. She said she thinks they will stay Monday and leave after that. But McGillivary doesn't intend to stop scoring once her family leaves town.
"I am going to keep scoring," McGillivary said. "I know I have a lot of people who recognize me now, but I just have to keep making a name for myself."
After saying that, McGillivary turned her left arm palm up to show off a script tattoo on the underside of that arm that says, "I will be remembered." She said she decided to get the tattoo June 21 in Brooklyn, New York, prior to her arrival in Starkville on July 9. She said it reminds of the attitude she needs every time she takes the field.
Mauldin likes what McGillivary has done so far and believes bigger things could be in the making.
"I think she has helped out the team so much," Mauldin said. "I think if she can focus on the little things and once she gets those, she will be an all-around complete player."
Gabriella Coleman and Waldner also scored. Monigo Karnley had two assists. Rhylee DeCrane made two saves for her fifth shutout.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.