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The greatest success story in Gonzaga soccer history: Tommy McKinnon

Tommy McKinnon Credit: Patrick Svenburg

The 2021 Gonzaga soccer season was one to forget for current senior Tommy McKinnon. Throughout the season, he served as the varsity backup goalie, only making appearances in blowout games or when the starter got injured. It was his junior season. He had one last chance going into his senior year to leave his mark on Gonzaga history, something even he himself considered to be a pipe dream at the time. Little did he know, it was meant to be all along.

Two weeks before this season’s tryouts, McKinnon learned that the previous year’s starter wasn’t coming back to Gonzaga for his senior year. Around that time, another potential starting goalie forwent playing for Gonzaga, opting to play travel soccer instead. This left McKinnon as the main option. The only option. The option meant to be.

McKinnon had not touched a ball since the previous November. It was August. Along with the rest of the team, McKinnon was, understandably, a little shaken at the sudden news of  going from potential third string to guaranteed first string. 

“I was a little bit nervous, you know, because I never had been honored with the starting spot other than a few games last year when Oliver was injured… so I was uncertain,” McKinnon said.

Throughout tryouts and preseason, one fact became clear: McKinnon’s saving ability was exceptional. However, the setback was his ability to play with his feet. Not touching a ball for eight months most likely had something to do with this deficiency. 

As practices continued, McKinnon’s footwork ability underwent a noticeable improvement. It wasn’t anywhere near perfect by any means, but it would have to do.

“I got to say, in preseason when he was selected to be our number one option because he was our only goalie, I didn’t expect much. My expectations were very low. I was expecting our offense and our backline to really carry the season,” said David Caballero, senior on the varsity soccer team.

McKinnon’s greatness began to shine in just the second game of the season: Gonzaga versus Landon. A heated rivalry. The packed Gonzaga student section relentlessly wailed out its voracious cheers. However, one chant in particular stood out among the rest. That night, a season-defining chant was born. Tommy McKinnon! Tommy McKinnon! Tommy McKinnon! Tommy McKinnon!

This chant rang throughout Eye Street the rest of the season. Not only was the team behind McKinnon, now all of Gonzaga was. 

This hype only grew as the season went along. Every game, McKinnon performed outstandingly, pitching shutout after shutout. After 20 regular season games, the team was undefeated, boasting a record low of allowed goals. 

But that was only the regular season. Playoffs are a whole different kind of pressure, especially for a goalie. If he made one little mistake, the whole season could be over. As the title states, McKinnon is the name belonging to the greatest athletic success story in Gonzaga’s history, so, of course, he performed. 

Over the course of the six playoff games, McKinnon only allowed one goal, won two championships (DCSAA and WCAC) and won the D.C. Championship Player of the Game award. With all of that, the undefeated record was preserved, and McKinnon solidified the Gonzaga soccer record for least number of goals conceded per game, etching his name in the history books. 

McKinnon shortly after receiving the DCSAA Championship Player of the Game award –  Credit: Patrick Svenburg

And when it seemed like McKinnon’s season couldn’t end any more perfectly, he earned a spot on the All-Metropolitan first team, an award that practically grants McKinnon the title of being the best high school goalkeeper in the DMV.

“It was expected,” McKinnon said, responding to how it felt when he received the award.

From riding the bench junior year to leading Gonzaga soccer to its most successful season ever senior year, McKinnon truly displayed what it means to be great. He captured the hearts of every Gonzaga supporter that had the privilege to witness one of his games. 

“It is difficult to put [Tommy’s greatness] into words. He led the league in clean sheets and fewest goals conceded, and no doubt that is because of Tommy’s greatness in goal,” said Kevin Reese, senior.

The name Tommy McKinnon will forever be synonymous with soccer greatness at Gonzaga.

“Tommy should be going D1. My man had nine goals scored against him all year. The moments that you most needed him he stepped up. So how would I describe him in one word? Well…I can’t say that word. He’s just a freakin’ winner,” said Mr. Jonathan Ruano, assistant soccer coach.

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    Carol CorganMay 4, 2023 at 9:31 am

    Hooray for Tommy! And you gotta admire the way he will do a ZAG spot on best snacks.